From the beautiful Tuscan hills and ancient walled city of Siena comes Panforte. Meaning ‘strong bread’ it was renowned for its keeping properties from medieval times, but these days it’s best known as a sort of Italian christmas cake. Theoretically one could keep it for months, but in most houses it never lasts that long.
Traditionally made with 17 ingredients to represent 17 districts within the city, these days variations abound. Once it was a spicy cake, dusted not with icing sugar but with black pepper. Now it is a dense and dark fruitcake or even, as here, made with chocolate as its centrepiece.
With access to summery figs and almonds, mine is not such a respectful cold-weather interpretation and I know any self-respecting Nona would scold me, but for now let’s keep it up to current trends. Made with fig, almond and dark chocolate, and with a satisfying kick of spice, this panforte will last months in your fridge. It is a wonderful Christmas gift to give to others and tends to disappear if left unattended too long.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Makes 16 pieces
1 ½ cups plain flour; ¼ cup baking cocoa; 2 tsp cinnamon; ½ tsp ground ginger; ½ tsp finely ground black pepper; 1 cup blanched almonds; 200g dried figs; 60g glacé ginger; 1 cup shelled pistachios; 1¼ cup (310 ml) honey; 1 cup (120g) caster sugar; 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids); icing mixture for dusting
Preheat oven to 160°C. Line the base and sides of a 23cm round springform cake tin with baking paper and set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, ground ginger and pepper into a large bowl and set aside.
Place the almonds in a dry fry pan and heat them over low heat, toss them and moving them constantly until they brown on each side. Remove the stems from the figs then roughly chop the figs and ginger to the same size as the almonds.
Add the almonds, figs, ginger and pistachio to the flour mixture and stir to combine.
Place honey and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over low heat. Stir from time to time until the sugar has dissolved. Roughly chop the chocolate into smallish pieces and add to the hot honey. Stir well to melt completely.
Add the chocolate mixture to the fruit and nuts and stir with a wooden spoon to combine everything well. It will be a very stiff mixture.
Press the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool in pan before turning out.
Dust the cake heavily with sifted icing mixture and use a large, sharp and warmed knife to slice through the panforte as cleanly as you can. Wrap the pieces in clear cellophane if you want to make some pretty presents, or store in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for at least a month this way (and much longer I expect) and many believe its flavour improves with time.
$12.45 for 16 pieces