The nutty, fruit-rich Tuscan dessert of nobility
Panforte—a Tuscan treat native to Siena—was created in the 13th century as a dessert for wealthy nobles and members of the clergy. With the recipe printed here anyone can make and enjoy it now.
Panforte is one of the most discussed sweets in Italy. It has a spicy flavor, and is one of the few remnants of the late medieval and early Renaissance court cuisine to have made it to modern tables.
Have you tasted panforte? Either you love it, or you hate it. The abundance of dried fruit and strong spices in this bread gives it a personality of its own, and a memorable taste.
The word panforte translates to “strong bread.” What makes it strong?
Originally, this sweet dessert was thought to have been called panpepato or, “peppered bread.” Think gingerbread!
My recipe for panforte is an appropriate dessert to share with your family and friends during the Christmas season. Preparations for making it begin in September when fresh fruit is put aside for drying. And, according to a popular legend, once on a Christmas night many years ago, a bread miraculously turned into a gingerbread man, symbolizing the birth of Jesus Christ.
Panforte was the creation of spice sellers—also the pharmacists of the day. That’s why it contains ingredients like oranges and other types of citrus fruits, melon, almonds, and ground spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Some people feel that panforte is a cure for, or a preventative of, disease because of the presence of spices in its composition.
The recipe for panforte remained unchanged until 1879, the year in which Queen Margherita visited Siena. On that occasion, an apothecary master decided to pay homage to the noblewoman by varying the preparation of the dessert. He eliminated the melon topping and used vanilla sugar as a cover. This resulted in the recipe for Panforte Margherita, one of its most famous versions.
I chose this dessert recipe out of many scrumptious Italian dessert recipes because I find it to be nutritious. A slice of panforte makes a great energizing breakfast—a tasty alternative to a granola bar. This recipe can be adapted for different dried or candied fruits and nuts according to yours, or your family’s, taste preferences. After you make panforte, it can be kept in a cool, dry place for long periods of time. Be sure to keep it well covered. Make it for Christmas—and then consume it all year round.
Below is my unique version of the recipe for panforte, and, to quote lyrics sung by Frank Sinatra, “I did I my way!”
Panforte of Tuscany
- Whole almonds, toasted – 1 cup
- Whole hazelnuts, toasted – 1 cup
- Chopped walnuts – 1 cup
- Dried apricots – 1 cup, diced in small pieces
- Dried figs – 1 cup, diced in small pieces
- Candied orange peel – 1 cup diced in small pieces
- Orange zest – from 1 orange
- Ground cinnamon – 1 tsp.
- Ground nutmeg – ½ tsp.
- Ground ginger – ¼ tsp.
- Freshly ground black pepper – ½ tsp.
- Himalayan pink salt – ¼ tsp.
- All-purpose flour or for gluten free rice flour – 2/3 cup
- Honey or agave syrup – 2/3 cup
- Sugar – ½ cup
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting, optional
- 8-inch springform pan, parchment paper, nonstick cooking spay for pan
- Preheat oven to 300°F
- Line cake pan with parchment paper
- Grease parchment paper and sides of cake pan liberally with cooking spray
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, black pepper, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger
- Stir in hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, figs, apricots, candied orange, and orange zest; mix until well combined
- Bring sugar and honey to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over medium law heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil without stirring about 2 minutes
- Immediately pour honey over fruit mixture and quickly stir until well combined (mixture will be very thick and sticky)
- Quickly spoon mixture into springform pan, spreading evenly with back of spoon
- Dampen your hands and press mixture firmly and evenly into pan to compact as much as possible
- Bake in middle of the oven, about 45 minutes
- Let panforte cool completely then remove from pan
- Dust top of cake with confectioners’ sugar
- To serve, cut with a serrated knife into thin wedges
- Panforte will stay fresh, wrapped with parchment paper, then again with plastic wrap, for months.
Rita Romano is a native of Bari, Italy and the youngest of ten children born into a family with a deep appreciation for the culinary arts. She also lived in Naples and La Spezia. At age 10, she immigrated to the United States. Later, while employed by Alitalia Airlines, Rita traveled to Europe often. In 1980, she moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and, after leaving the airline industry in 1990, Rita operated three Italian restaurants specializing in pasta. She published Sauces for Pasta Lovers and started an Italian cooking school. Her other books are, Italian Entrees for Protein Lovers, Ciao Tesoro: Treasures from the Italian Kitchen, which includes her family’s legacy recipes, and Italian Gluten Free Gastronomy.
Visit Rita Romano online at: www.ritasrecipes.com.