As you probably know, The Artist has an Italian heritage and grew up eating wonderful homemade meals. One of his favorite treats has always been panforte, a blend of candied fruits, honey, sugar and just enough flour to hold it all together and then baked in a cake form.
Panforte (pahn-for-tay) originated in the Tuscany region of Italy as far back as the thirteenth century where it was used as payment to the local monastery for tithes or yearly taxes. Made with candied and dried fruits, it is somewhat similar to a fruitcake, but spicier. Many traditional versions include ground black pepper that are wonderful and known as Panpepato. This is a fun change of pace for Chocolate Monday!
I like to think of this as the world’s first power bar because it traveled with the soldiers during the Crusades. It was very durable and could withstand many months of travel without refrigeration. The Artist swears there is nothing better for recharging his batteries after a long bike ride.
For me, panforte is an oddly delicious combination of flavors. Somehow the blending of the honey, sugar, candied fruits, nuts and chocolate all come together to create a wonderful confection. And as candies go, it is really easy to make. This is one candy that is hard to screw up and would be a perfect one to start with if you want a recipe to learn on.
Because of the rich ingredients, you only need a little wedge so this dessert serves a lot of people. It can also be made ahead and does not require refrigeration, which makes it the perfect choice for large parties, picnics and pot luck suppers. I also like to give mini versions as hostess gifts or as part of holiday gift bags.
I was happy to have The Artist home when I was mixing these together. I took advantage of his arm strength. The batter is heavy and very sticky. You could also use a heavy-duty stand mixer if needed to get everything incorporated.
Once you add it to the prepared baking pan, make sure your hand is quite wet and put it back under running water as needed to keep your hand cool and damp as you pat the mixture into the pan. If you have hot hands, you can either use latex gloves or an oiled spoon to push the mixture to the edges of the pan.
In some parts of the country, quality candied fruits are hard to find. For everyone’s sake, please don’t use the cheap stuff stored in liquid that most stores sell. Splurge a little and buy some of the amazing fruits from King Arthur Flour. You can mail order their European Mixed Candied Fruits for this recipe and then use them for panettone for the holidays and my favorite Panettone Biscotti cookies – a cross between the flavors of panettone and the texture of biscotti – any time of the year.
The next time you are in the mood for a touch of Italy, whip up one of these amazing treats, make espresso and put on Italian opera. You’ll swear you are sitting on a terrazzo in Sienna!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Make sure you have all your ingredients measured out and prepped before you start making the candy. You will have some wiggle room, but not much when it comes to timing. Having everything ready will make it easier to keep your kitchen clean and organized.
You can use your regular gluten-free all-purpose flour and add cornstarch to convert it to cake flour (see recipe below). Use this to line the cake pan as well as for making the panforte itself. As always, read the labels on all your ingredients to make sure there are no hidden gluten ingredients.
Kitchen Skill: Making Your Own Cake Flour
Keeping cake flour on hand if you don’t do a lot of baking can be challenging and if you are now baking gluten-free, it is nearly impossible. But neither of these situations need cause you frustration, simply make your own whenever you need it!
The ratio is simple … for each 1 cup of regular flour you need in a recipe, remove 2 tbsp and replace it with an equal amount of cornstarch. Sift the flour and cornstarch together at least four times, aerating the flour and thoroughly and evenly distributing the cornstarch. If you bake cakes regularly, it would be worth it to make up a large batch and keep it in a container on your kitchen counter.
- Butter for greasing the pan
- Bread Crumb Pan Lining
- 1 tbsp cake flour or gluten-free flour blend
- 1 tbsp dry breadcrumbs or gluten-free breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp ground almonds or almond meal
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp cake flour or gluten-free flour blend, divided
- 1/4 tsp table salt (1/2 tsp kosher salt)
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (a well rounded 1/2 cup of chocolate chips), chopped finely
- 8 oz (1 cup) European mixed candied fruits from King Arthur Flour or and equal amount of candied citron, melon, orange peel, etc., cut into a small dice
- 1 cup blanched or sliced almonds (about 5 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
- Confectioners' sugar for dusting the panforte before serving, optional
- If you do not have cake flour on hand, make your own following the method listed above in today’s Kitchen Skill. To prepare enough for today’s recipe, place 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp + 1-1/2 tsp flour in a bowl. Add 1 tbsp + 1-1/2 tsp cornstarch. Sift together four times to thoroughly integrate the cornstarch. This will give you enough cake flour for both the panforte and to line the baking pan.
- Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 300°F. Brush an 8-inch round cake pan liberally with butter. Cut a disk of parchment or waxed paper to fit pan bottom. Fit parchment circle into pan bottom. Butter the top of the parchment. Set aside.
- Place a wire cooling rack over a sheet of parchment paper next to the stove.
- Prepare the Panforte: Combine the ingredients for the Bread Crumb Pan Lining mixture, and then evenly scatter it over the buttered surface and pat gently into place. Alternately, you can use wheat starch paper, oblaten, or rice paper, overlapping the paper about 1/2 inch at seam.
- Place 2 tbsp of the cake flour in a small bowl and set aside.
- In another bowl mix remaining 1/2 cup cake flour, salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, and the coriander, cloves, and nutmeg; set this spiced flour aside as well.
- In a medium saucepan, pour honey, and then the sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until mixture comes to a full boil.
- Remove honey/sugar mixture from the heat; add chocolate, cover and let stand until chocolate melts, about 2 minutes. Stir with a heatproof spatula until the chocolate and honey have become a smooth mixture and all the chocolate pieces have melted.
- Stir in candied fruit and almonds. You can switch to a wooden spoon if the mixture is too heavy for your spatula. Sift half the spiced flour over the mixture; stir until incorporated and repeat with remaining spiced flour. Scrape batter into the center of the prepared pan. Use the slightly wet palm of your hand or an oiled spoon to press the mixture into the pan, patting until you have an even layer in the pan. Be careful, as this mixture is still quite hot.
- Sprinkle reserved 2 tbsp flour over the top. Tap and tilt the pan to move the flour around if needed until the entire top is covered.
- Place baking pan on a baking sheet with sides to provide insulation as it bakes. Place in the preheated oven and bake until panforte just starts to simmer around edge of pan, 20 to 25 minutes. If it begins to simmer at edge much before 20 minutes, lower the oven temperature slightly and check carefully as it bakes to be sure it does not simmer again.
- While the panforte is baking, fill your saucepan with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. This will melt the honey/sugar/chocolate off the pan and make your cleanup much faster! Once it comes to a boil, scrape the sides and pour out the hot water. Wash as usual with soap and hot water.
- Remove pan from oven; let cool to room temperature on wire rack. Loosen panforte from pan by running a small knife around the perimeter. Invert onto wire rack. Use knife to peel away parchment. Re-invert panforte again and allow to cool completely on the wire rack. If desired you can spread a thin layer of melted semisweet chocolate over the top. Let set until firm before cutting or wrapping.
- When cool, it can be wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap and a layer of foil and stored in an airtight container for several weeks, or frozen for up to 6 months. Before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar and cut in small wedges.
Create a New Tradition Today!
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