It's finally snowing. Eleven days remain of this year. I have spent some part of every single day this past week baking. Making this panforte was nearly an all day affair. A perfect way to distract my mind. And frankly after having tasted the result, I can honestly tell you--worth every single minute. It has won the heart of both DH and me. I have sworn to myself to keep a ready supply of this on the kitchen counter through winter.
The Panforte Di Siena is a recipe I came across in one of my all time favorite cookbooks, Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma. Chocolate is listed in the ingredients, so it had my attention right away. In addition, there's a hefty portion of nuts, dried fruit and sugar--heated to the "soft boil" stage using a candy thermometer--Yes! that scared me. But the overall gist of it is that it's this incredible confection that gets better the longer it sits and you will need to fight the urge to keep from wanting to down the whole darn thing in one setting. Not to mention all of the taste-testing you'll do while mixing, chopping, folding and pressing. (You may be thinking "fruit cake" about now, but please know--this is sooo much more, and quite frankly, not even close.)
As Gina explains in her book: Panaforte comes from the Middle Ages where it is said to have been baked by a Sienese nun who gave it to her townspeople and it was said to help them survive a brazen attack from invaders AND survive an outbreak of the plague. (Uh-oh.) The description goes on to state that the panforte legend states that the dessert has the power to unite families and keep husbands from fighting with their wives. (Along with the chocolate part--this, too, piqued my interest. . . just saying.)
I had some choices to make in terms of which recipe to use to make the panforte my own. The original recipe calls for a lot of honey. Being a former beekeeper, I would not have had a problem with this. If I'd had the honey resources on hand, I'd have gone that direction. But instead, I had to settle on using agave nectar. Then there was the problem of candied orange peel. I had none on hand. So the trip to the store would determine the outcome of this appearing in my version. As luck would have it--we have a fairly well stocked local store not five minutes from my front door--I now had the candied orange peel (vs. citron--which is something I cannot even stand looking at in the container. Just what IS citron anyway and who had the brilliant idea of throwing it into a perfectly good cake?)
In my research of the panforte, I not only found a video of Gina making her panforte on the Martha Stewart Show, I also came across David Lebovitz's website where a most beautiful finished panforte was pictured. I love this man's food! Love. It.
I set my sights on using his recipe mainly, but also making sure to keep things like dried figs (which Gina specifies) included in my final version. David's version amps up the chocolate and included red chile powder. I opted not to try this for personal reasons. In both versions, cracked black pepper is called for. I did however make sure to add this. Gina's recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of butter being added to the sugar mixture. I omitted the butter in my version. And I used 3/4 cup of agave nectar in place of the honey called for in David's recipe.
Not having ever had a panforte before, but completely in love with my finished version, I'd have to say making these substitutions did nothing to hamper the desirability of the dessert. I gifted a tin of this to my guitar instructor and he loved it. DH is a huge fan of orange and chocolate. It was a win-win. And I've officially been asked not to share any more of it unless I plan on spending another afternoon in the kitchen with my candy thermometer. As for husband and wife relations--as the panforte legend goes--things around here couldn't be better!
Candied orange peel. If you find you have to buy yours like I did--just make sure the first ingredient listed on the package is oranges.
You have flexibility with the dried fruit you'd like to add. I went with dried cherries, apricots, figs and cranberries for mine.
Same goes for the nuts. I went with pistachios, pecans and almonds. Be sure to toast your nuts first because this only will enhance the flavor of your finished product.
Of course use the BEST baking chocolate you can get your hands on.
Add dried ingredients to nuts and fruit, toss well to coat.
Add the chocolate. then the boiled sugar mixture and mix together. It will turn into this sticky mess and you can't imagine how you'll ever get this to lay flat in your pans.
I used two size 8" round pans I found at the grocery store--they came with lids so it makes it easier to store them. David suggests wetting your hands first, then pressing the panforte into the pans into a thin, even layer. This worked beautifully. Bake them, then after they've cooled, dust with confectioner's sugar. Slice thin. Enjoy! And boy have we enjoyed.
Life saving, soul-satisfying, yummy chocolate yum.
On a completely unrelated front, I decided I'd try knitting a Christmas ornament. On size ONE dpns! I have never in my life tried knitting with so small a needle--five at once, no less! At least now I know that if the world does in fact end, I have a ready supply of toothpicks that would make nice stand-ins for emergency knitting supplies. My god.
I gave this little ornament to my guitar instructor because he had patiently (oh-so-patiently) sat by my side once a week for this past year listening to my horrendous
playing plucking as I trudged my way through learning to play guitar. (Plus he got a tin of the panforte--he loved btw.) I plan to continue my guitar lessons in the coming year. It was the least I could do.
If you have a last minute gift you need to knock out--I used the Balls Up pattern on Ravelry. Very easy to follow--if I can do it, anyone can. Music notes were a big hit. I might have to knit myself one.