Panforte is a delicious cross between a cake and a confection. It’s often called a fruitcake, but since that conjures up images of stale, drugstore cakes that can be used as door stops, I prefer to use the original Italian term, which means “strong bread.” The origins of panforte go back as far as 13th century Siena and there are some records that indicate that the Crusaders took panforte along on their journeys, no doubt because it stays fresh for several weeks and tastes even better after its flavors have had a chance to ripen and mellow.
It’s a relatively easy thing to make, though it does require lots of chopping and numerous ingredients. Panforte’s ingredients tend to be costly, so I usually reserve this for holiday gift-giving. This is my standard recipe, but feel free to improvise or change the recipe somewhat. Want is spicier? Add a little bit of red pepper. Really like ginger? Add a little more than the recipe calls for. Not a fan of figs? Use dried plums instead. As long as the total amount of dried fruit does not change, and you use a mixture, the panforte should turn out fine.
- Candied orange peel can be purchased online from King Arthur Flour, but it’s really quite simple to make your own and can be made days and weeks ahead of the panforte. I make a large batch once a year and I freeze it. Here’s a link to a simple recipe from The Food Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/candied-orange-recipe.html
- If you happen to live near any ethnic grocery stores consider purchasing some of your ingredients from them. Middle Eastern and Indian markets are great sources for inexpensive spices, nuts, and dried fruit. Often, they sell spices by the ounce, which means that you can buy only what you need.
- The recipe calls for two 8 -nch cake pans, but if you wanted to make smaller cakes to give as gifts, you can use mini loaf pans. Just be sure to carefully watch the cakes and reduce the total baking time.
(Prep time 45 minutes-Bake Time 60 minutes-makes two 8 inch cakes)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1.5 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
2 cups of whole unsalted almonds, toasted (I’ve used sliced almonds as well and it’s turned out fine)
2 ½ cups of hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 cups of dried apricots cut into ¼ inch dice
2 cups of dried mission figs, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 cup of dried cherries
1 cup of candied orange peel, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 ½ cups of granulated sugar
1 ½ cups of honey
½ cup of water
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Position one rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously butter the bottoms and sides of two 8-inch cake pans.
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, salt, and cloves. Add the nuts, fruits and candied orange peel, stirring to coat them evenly with the dry ingredients. Set aside.
- In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, honey and water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar, 3 to 5 minutes. When the mixture comes to a boil, decrease the heat to low, attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and continue to boil, without stirring, until it reaches soft-ball stage (240 degrees on a candy thermometer), about 5 minutes longer. (Do not overcook the sugar and take it past the soft-ball stage; it will be sticky and too hard to spread.)
- Immediately remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour it over the nut and fruit mixture. Working quickly, stir until well combined. It will be sticky and dense. Divide the mixture between the two pans, spread to the edges and smooth the top out with damp hands.
- Bake the cakes until puffed and dark golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. When cooled, run a damp table knife around the edges and flip the cake onto a cutting board or plate. Dust the tops generously with confectioner’s sugar.