I first tasted Panforte in Sienna when, having finished teaching a class at a cookery school set in the hills above Orvieto I spent a couple of days being a tourist before leaving Italy and coming home. I love Sienna maybe even more than Florence as, especially twenty years ago, it was less packed with visitors and cheap pizza dives.
I love the irony that we all exhibit when abroad, It’s fine for us to be there but we look with absolute disdain at other tourists, never considering we are of their number!
So it was in a back street in Sienna that I found an ancient sweetmeat shop selling all manner of things I had no knowledge of. The Panforte was wrapped in beautifully illustrated paper and tied with a thin gold ribbon. I bought some on impulse, having no idea what I was buying.
About a couple of months later I found my Panforte in the back of a cupboard and opened and ate it. It was quite simply unlike anything I’d tried before. At first I was unsure but when I found that all that was left was the wrapper I knew then I would be adding to my list of must have goodies along with Turron and nougat.
Made with candied peel, almonds, cocoa and honey, Panforte dates from around the fourteenth century, when the spice trade was in full flourish and spices were shipped overland often entering Italy through Venice.
The spicing is unusual as peppercorns and coriander feature along with the more usual sweet spices of clove and nutmeg.
Traditionally made in December it symbolised a prosperous and sweet New Year. Serve cut into small pieces, it is very sweet!
Panforte Di Siena
360 gm 12 oz whole unskinned almonds
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoons coriander seeds
6 black pepper corns
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
! heaped tablespoon cocoa powder
245gm 8oz caster sugar
120gm 4oz clear honey
450gm 1lb whole preserved candied fruit, chopped
30gm 1 oz plain flour
I tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon corn flour
Rice paper ( available from specialist cake shops)
Preheat the oven to 180’C/350F/Gas 4 and roast the almonds and walnuts until golden.
Line the base of a 20cm 8” spring form tin with rice paper.
Either grind all the spices plus the walnuts in a coffee grinder or pound the cinnamon stick, walnuts, coriander seeds, cloves and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Stir in the nutmeg and cocoa powder.
Heat the caster sugar and honey in a saucepan, stirring continuously until the mixture comes to a gentle rolling boil.
Continue to stir for half a minute, remove and stir in the almonds, fruit, walnut and cocoa mixture and sifted flour.
Pack the mixture in a round baking tray. It is very hot and stiff at this stage, but work as quickly as you can, flattening it down into the tin with the back of a spoon. Cut more rice paper to fit and cover the top of the Panforte.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Once the Panforte has cooled, take it from the tin. You will need to do this whilst it is still warm. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin the open it. Lift the Panforte from the base and using your hands press and mould any loose bits back into shape. Once cold dust with a mixture of icing sugar and corn flour.
Panforte keeps for months wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight tin.
The lovely picture above was taken by the very talented Diana Miller