I never liked Panforte until I tried my own.
My family didn’t make Panforte, we had the store brought panforte on Christmas day. We ate it as part of a ritual, a what-you-would-expect gargantuan Italian Christmas feast.
Every region in Italy has different Christmas traditions.
A Typical Christmas Lunch in Tuscany would include: All kinds of crostini: smoked salmon, chicken livers, mushrooms, pickled vegetables, Prosciutto, Finocchiona, and other cold cuts.
As a first course, Tortellini in Capon broth, most families would also have another pasta, such as a lasagna or pappardelle with Wild Boar.
As a main course, a variety of boiled meats with ‘Salsa Verde’ (a delicious sauce made with garlic parsley, a boiled potato, olive oil and and anchovy) would be served.
Christmas desserts would include: Pandoro, Panforte, Ricciarelli, Panettone, Torrone. I do not enjoy sweets very much nowadays, but I loved them as a child. Pandoro was my favorite. My mother would place it in the oven and it would have a wonderful buttery scent. The best part of a Pandoro was the crust, and it was shaped like a Christmas tree with a flat top. The top was the best part, and my mother claimed it for herself all of the time. Oh I was so angry! Her excuse was that she was a grownup and she was the first to chose. I never had a whole ‘top’ for myself until I was an adult. I smile every time I open a Pandoro now.
I have grown to enjoy Panforte and the infinite recipes you can make with it. You can chop it up and put it in Ice Cream, I used to serve it with Pecorino, or you can grind it and sprinkle it in coffee, or add to any dessert, or french toast.
Panforte has several sub-categories: Pan Pepato, Panforte Margherita, and modern versions made with chocolate and other dried fruits.
‘Pan Pepato’ dates back to the early middle ages. It was made during the Christmas season and the spices used to make it were assembled by Apothecaries in their pharmacies, as they were also used for medicinal purposes.
10 years ago a client gave me a ‘panforte kit’ as a gift. The kit contained a bag of spices, hazelnuts, candied fruit, and powdered sugar. Along with it was a recipe. All I had to do was add flour and honey. I tried it and much to my chagrin, I thought it was quite good. So I started developing my own version. My staff and I worked on it for a long time before perfecting the recipe to what I wanted it to be. Fortunately I had guests who ate all of our trials and errors! I went to insofar as to try a recommendation by a customer who works at a local prosciutto factory; he suggested I try mixing white sugar with vinegar and boiling it to make a faux honey. It probably works well with ham, but it did not turn out so well in a panforte. It changed the texture, instead of a soft panforte, it was brittle and crunchy.
The ingredients are a bit expensive, but it is Christmas! Look for the best quality ingredients you can find, you will be able to taste the difference.
Last year I was commissioned to make 14 Panforti in one day. I had a few ingredients left over and decided to make a 15th panforte. I ran out of honey, and decided to use Maple Syrup. I was so tired that I did not care how it would turn out. The unexpected happened. Some Times, the Vegan version of a recipe is better than the original. Well, Panforte made with Maple Syrup exceeded my expectations. It truly is better than the original one. I like to use Chestnut Honey. Orange honey is also very good. The only honey I did not enjoy in my panforte was eucalyptus honey.
Do try with other dried fruits! I made one last year with chopped prunes, hazelnuts and candied orange. It was delicious! I have also tried making it with dried apricots, a tropical version with papaya, pineapple, and walnuts. They were all very good! Keep in mind that if you use walnuts or macadamias, your panforte with feel ‘greasier’ so use a little less honey.
Follow my directions carefully so as to avoid what took me many trials to learn. If you are using maple syrup it will be much easier, because it does not thicken as it cools down. If you are using honey, prepare for a sticky experience. Remember to work quickly. Have everything ready beforehand.
- 300gr flour
- 300gr powdered sugar
- 350gr dried figs
- 150gr candied orange
- 16gr spices (I use a blend of cardamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cinnamon, and ginger)
- 600gr almonds with skin
- 400gr chestnut honey
- Heat the oven @375°
- Line two round pans with parchment paper.
- cut the figs and the candied orange into thin slices.
- Place a large bowl on a scale and weight the flour and the powdered sugar. Add the spices.
- Mix with a whisk. Add the candied fruit and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Place the hazelnuts in a large tray and bake for 10 minutes.
- While the Almonds are baking, warm the honey until very hot. Heating the maple syrup will make it easier to mix the compound.
- Once the hazelnuts are ready, add them to your dry ingredients. Mix well. Add the honey or maple syrup stirring quickly and vigorously. Using your hands, while it is still hot, press into the pan lined with parchment paper. Press well so as not to create air pockets.
- Bake for 35 minutes.