Panforte, an Italian Christmas treat

Panforte is as traditional Italian as it can get.

Legend has it, and some historical accounts may prove this too, that crusaders themselves used to carry, on the way to their quest, slabs of what was described as a durable confection made with honey and sugar syrup, spices, nuts and dried fruits: Panforte, that is.

It’s name means “Strong bread” , which refers to the generous amounts of spices such as clove and cinnamon as well as black pepper.

It is one of the most popular and loved Italian confections, that seems to be mostly consumed around Christmas, especially in Tuscany, its geographical home-land.

The recipe for Panforte is one of those controversial ones. The reason being that the Tuscan confectioners from Siena would rather set they hair on fire than share their century-old knowledge.

So, for avid home-bakers like myself the choice is to experiment in the kitchen until I get a good approximation of what they proudly produce in the Tuscan hills.

Experimenting may at times involve burnt caramel and a non-rescuable frying pan, but other than this minor set back, I think I may have come up with something worthy.

And guess what? Since I’m not Tuscan but Lombard/Abruzzese, I will happily share this with you….

INGREDIENTS

  • 50g (1/3 cup)  whole blanched almonds
  • 50g (1/3 cup)roasted hazelnuts
  • 3 table spoons coarsely chopped dessert figs
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dried apricots
  • 2 tablespoons mixed peel
  • 55 g (1/2 cup) plain flour
  • 1 tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of freshly found black pepper
  • 40 g chopped dark chocolate (70%, preferably)
  • 85 (1/4 cup) ml  honey
  • 3 tablespoons  sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C/ 340 Farenheit.

In the meantime, make a syrup by dissolving the sugar with the honey and the dark chocolate in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce and keep simmering, without stirring for around 2 minutes. Do not leave the stove at this stage or you will end up with burnt caramel….don’t ask me how I know…

Place almonds, hazelnuts and dried fruit in a large bowl.  Sift over the cocoa, the flour, the ground pepper and spices and stir to combine. Add the chocolate and honey syrup and mix well. At first to will look dry, have faith and keep combining until you obtain a dark, gooey paste. If it struggles to come together , add 1 tablespoon of honey.

Line an oven dish with non-stick baking paper, pour in your panforte mix and smooth and flatten the surface with the back of a spoon or by pressing baking paper over it.

Bake for around 20 minutes or until just set. As it cools down it will firm up more.

Cut into squares, dust with icing sugar and accompany with coffee or grappa. Or both!

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