This Italian confection, loaded with honey, nuts, dried fruit, and spices is a cross between a cake, a fruitcake, and a candy. The texture is heavy and dense, chewy and a little sticky; the taste is sweet and spicy, nutty and fruity; it is oh-so delicious and easy to make. Panforte doesn’t really have a chocolate flavor, but the cocoa imparts a dark rich color. Panforte is baked in a round pan lined with edible rice paper, edible wheat starch paper, or parchment paper.
To make Panforte, a cooked sugar and honey mixture is combined with the nuts, spices, and dried fruit mixture, and then smoothed into place in the pan. It gets a slow bake in the oven, just long enough to heat the ingredients together. After baking and cooling, the top is heavily dusted with powdered sugar. I sugar dusted my Panforte using a few star stencils just to give it a festive touch. This delicious and elegant confection should be cut into small servings, and is perfect with a cup of hot espresso.
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- 1 cup unblanched almonds, toasted, and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup hazelnuts (filberts), toasted, skins removed, and coarsely chopped
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1½ teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Pinch (scant 1/16 teaspoon) ground white pepper
- 1 cup candied orange peel, chopped fine
- ½ cup candied citron, chopped fine
- ½ cup candied lemon peel, chopped fine
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cut honey
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 to 2 tablespoons confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the toasted and coarsely chopped almonds and hazelnuts, flour, cocoa, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, and white pepper; whisk together to mix. Add the chopped orange peel, citron, and lemon peel. Whisk to mix well. Set aside.
- In a medium heavy saucepan over medium low heat, combine sugar, honey and butter, heat until the butter is melted and sugar dissolves, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon so mixture does not burn. Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, without stirring. Brush down the sides of the pan with a clean wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization. Cook until the sugar mixture reaches the soft-ball stage and a temperature of 240 to 245 degrees F. Remove pan from heat and remove candy thermometer.
- Immediately pour the hot sugar mixture over the dry ingredients. Working rapidly, stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. With damp hands press the batter evenly into the pan, smoothing the top.
- Bake: Place the pan on a baking sheet with ½ inch sides to catch any leakage. Bake 30 minutes. The Panforte will not look set but it will firm up as it cools. Remove from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack to cool.
- When cooled, Slide a small kitchen knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it and remove the sides of the springform pan.
- Before serving, use a fine-mesh sieve to dust top of cake with confectioner’s sugar.
- Optional: To make the star stencils, use a 1 inch star cookie cutter and trace around the cutter onto a piece of heavy paper, and then cut out the shapes. Place a pin in the centerof each star to hold in place on top of the cake and to make easy to remove stencils from cake. Randomly place star stencils on top of cake, dust entire top of cake with powdered sugar, then remove the stencils by grabbing the pins and lifting off.
- Serve and Store: Cut into small wedges to serve. Store Panforte in an air-tight container or wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil and store at room temperature up to one month.
Malgieri, Nick, Perfect Cakes, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2002