Panforte di Siena

December 10, 2008

Photo: James.Whisker

Every day as we walked to school in Siena, Italy we passed the big panforte factory. We could smell the delicious confection baking and it was intoxicating. Back then I didn't appreciate this dense and chewy cake but it's now something I look forward to during the holidays.

Panforte dates back to at least the Middle Ages, some believe back even further, and originated in Siena (or at least Tuscany). It literally translates to "strong bread," referring to its piquant flavor. Being so densely packed with dried fruit, nuts, spices, and honey I'm sure the Crusaders referred to it as their energy bar.

Many regard Siena as the panforte capital of Italy. While there are various recipes for panforte most Senese believe it should contain seventeen ingredients to represent the seventeen contrade (subdivisions) of the walled city (my beloved contrada was the Istrice, or the crested porcupine!).

If you're making panforte follow the traditional Italian way by baking it in small 4-inch disks. Wrap it in wax paper, then brown butcher paper. Tie it with string and, if you want to get really fancy, seal it with red embossed wax. Che bella! A little slice is perfect in the morning with a cup of cappuccino, or after a meal with a nice glass of vin santo.

Adapted from Chef Gina DePalma

Nonstick cooking spray, for pan
3 cups whole blanched almonds
1 3/4 cups whole hazelnuts, skinned or unskinned
2 cups diced candied orange peel
6 ounces dried apricots, diced
5 ounces dried figs, diced
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups honey
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack set in the center of the oven. Generously spray a 9-by-2-inch heavy-bottomed, nonstick round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with a parchment paper circle, spray parchment paper circle with cooking spray. Coat bottom and sides of pan with flour, tapping out excess.

Using a sharp knife, roughly chop almonds and hazelnuts and place in a large, wide bowl, along with orange peel, apricots, and figs; toss to combine.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, cocoa powder, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper. Add to bowl of nuts and fruit and toss until well combined.

Place sugar, honey, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook mixture until it reaches 217 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove pan from heat and quickly pour sugar mixture into nut mixture. Using a heatproof spatula, stir until well combined. Transfer mixture to prepared cake pan, smoothing surface with a spatula.

Transfer cake pan to oven and bake until entire surface is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer cake to wire rack and let cool completely. Wrap well with parchment paper, and then again with plastic wrap. Store in a cool, dry place up to 3 weeks.

To serve, dust the panforte with confectioners' sugar and cut into thin wedges with a sharp knife.
For more on the history of panforte check out Siena's Panforte: A Christmas Delight.



Kasey's picture

I know exactly the place you're talking about. I, too, studied in Siena and indulged in this delectable treat. I liked Istrice, too, but also loved Giraffa and my home-away-from-home, Leocorno. :)

Sean's picture

Ooh ... I've had the light and dark panfortes but never seen it with marzipan. Yum-o!

Cherie's picture

Delicioso! And I have the cracked tooth from long ago as a delightful memory.

Auntie in Sarajevo's picture

So, I will be in Siena a few days before Christmas-a side trip from our Florence Christmas vacation. I will definitely try out this sweet, amongst other goodies. Any special haunts in Siena to get it? Miss you. Auntie B

Peter's picture

This is my first time reading/seeing a Panaforte de Siena...incredible photo and wonderful dessert.

praturk's picture

I loved your blog and this recipe. Squisito!!!