This marks the true start of my Christmas baking, as Panforte is something which keeps for ages if well wrapped or in an airtight container. According to which source of information you choose, it will keep for anything from 2 weeks to several months, which is just as well, as it's so rich that it will only get eaten a sliver at a time. It's the sort of thing that you eat with your evening coffee, or that might appeal to someone who prefers confectionary to desserts.
Although Panforte is something I've been meaning to try for years, what prompted me to make it now was two of this month's cooking challenges. We Should Cocoa wants participants to pair chocolate and figs, and AlphaBakes is using the letter X this month, and will be accepting 'X = Xmas' recipes!
Panforte is an Italian fruit and nut cake, original from Siena, and traditionally only eaten at Christmas. As explained in the link, because the basis of the cake is a boiled syrup made from honey and sugar, the texture of panforte is more like nougat or toffee than what we usually expect from 'cake'. Chocolate is a relatively modern addition, although most recipes nowadays contain at least a little cocoa.
I decided to go for a double chocolate version, and to also add figs and crystallised ginger, as in this recipe. This was one of the first recipes I found when looking for 'fig and chocolate' recipes, but as I researched further, I realised that it might not be the best recipe to use. Many of the more traditional recipes used a variety of old-fashioned spices such as cloves, pepper and nutmeg as well as cinnamon, and most used a much smaller quantity of flour. Panforte is also often baked on a base of edible rice paper (or communion wafers), which would have made it easier to remove from the baking tin before the days of non-stick bakeware.
The problem was, the more I researched, the more confused I got about which recipe to actually use - some cooked the dried fruits in water, or added wine, or boiled the sugar and honey with butter too. Some recipes made huge cakes - suitable for feeding dozens of people for several weeks, and some recipes made something which was more like a refrigerator cake - no cooking at all!
In the end, I decided to base the recipe on the basic ingredients required to make an 8" diameter (20cm) cake, in a recipe from one of my own cookbooks, but to vary the added ingredients according to my instincts in order to make something like the original fig, chocolate and ginger version. I used the spice mix from my basic recipe too, as it seemed in line with several other recipes, although I used nutmeg instead of mace.
The one thing I did differently from almost all the recipes I found was to leave the added chocolate in large chunks; I knew it would melt in the heat of the syrup, but hoped that little pockets of richer chocolate would be left in the finished cake.
200g blanched almonds
200g dried, but soft, figs
60g crystallised ginger
100g plain chocolate
50g plain flour
zest of one small orange
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
100g runny honey
100g caster sugar
Rice paper - optional
First toast the almonds lightly in a 180C oven for 10 minutes, then cool and chop coarsely. Reduce the oven temperature to 160C
Grease a loose-bottomed 8" sandwich tin, and line the sides with baking parchment. Then cut a sheet of rice paper to fit the base (or use more baking parchment).
Cut the figs and ginger into pieces about the same size as the chopped nuts.
Mix the flour, cocoa, orange zest and spices in a bowl, the add the figs, ginger, almonds and coarsely chopped chocolate. Mix to evenly coat the fruit and nuts in the flour mixture.
Gently heat the sugar and honey in a medium sized pan, until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring to the boil and heat until the temperature reaches 115-120C on a sugar thermometer. Many recipes say boil for three minutes, so without a sugar thermometer, this is what I'd suggest.
Remove the pan from the heat and add all the other ingredients; you'll need to work quickly to mix everything together and will look initially as if there isn't enough syrup, but it will eventually come together. When everything is evenly mixed, tip the ball of ingredients into the centre of the baking tin. Use the back of a wet spoon to spread out the dough evenly to the edges of the tin.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Cool in the tin, then remove the baking parchment and store in an airtight tin, wrapped in foil.
Sift over icing sugar before serving. I have the feeling that this stage will need repeating at intervals, as the sugar dissolves.
The smell of spices, chocolate and orange, as this baked, was amazing. Once it was cold, I cut out the small sliver shown in the photograph, for research purposes, and it was very chewy, reminiscent of nougat. The chocolate and spices blended well with the figs and nuts but the best part was getting a nugget of crystallised ginger to chew on, which gave an extra burst of flavour in the mouth. Looking at the photo, I may have been successful in getting separate areas of chocolate too - there's definitely a darker patch in the middle!
We Should Cocoa (rules here) is hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog; she often has guest hosts, but this month is running the challenge herself.
AlphaBakes (rules here) is hosted alternately by Caroline, of Caroline Makes, and Ros, of The More Than Occasional Baker. Caroline is this month's host, choosing X, to make things easier for us during the rest of the year!.