Apr 12, 2011

Italian-Inspired Desserts, part 2

Now for part 2: Panforte!

Thanks to Wikipedia, i have just learnt that panforte literally means 'strong bread', referring to its spicy flavours.  This Italian sweet bread has been around for centuries and could possibly date back to 1205, when it was suspected to have been made for the first time in Siena, Tuscany.  If a panforte has been made 'properly', it is apparently supposed to contain 17 ingredients, for the 17 Contrade within the city walls of Siena (a whole other story, interesting, but not food-related, so i will spare you!).

Because this recipe has been around for such a long time, there are several different versions.  Originally, panforte didn't contain chocolate, but now most do contain either chocolate or cocoa or both.  In some more modern recipes, the pepper has been omitted.  The medley of spices is another thing which changes significantly from recipe to recipe.

This is something very different, not for everyone.  I made this recipe because the picture looked so good and not, as i usually would, because of the ingredients listed.  I would actually recommend making this around Christmas time.  The flavours and aroma's reminded me so of Christmas - cinnamon, cloves, honey, roasted nuts...  Yummy!!

4 small sheets of rice paper
100 g skinned hazelnuts
100 g blanched almonds 
(you can use macadamia or walnuts too)
1 teaspoon each of whole coriander seeds, cloves, nutmeg and black peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
50 g dried figs, finely chopped
15 ml cocoa
200 g candied orange and lemon peel, roughly chopped
grated zest of 1 lemon
50 g all purpose flour
150 g sugar
60 ml honey
30 ml butter
icing sugar,to dust

Butter and line the base of a 20 cm spring-form cake tin with rice paper.  Cut a few strips to line the sides as well. 
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius.  Lightly brown the nuts on a baking tray for approximately 6-8 minutes.  Check often as they burn easily.
Grind the whole spices together in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.  I found that my spice grinder couldn't get the spices as fine as i would have liked.  Upon tasting the end result, one every now and then bit into a peppercorn or a fragment of clove.  This is, to me, too overpowering.  When i make this again, i would prefer to use the spice powders.  Also, to make it more palate-friendly, i will omit the pepper.
Put the nuts, spices, figs, cocoa, candied peel, lemon zest and flour together in a metal or china bowl and mix well.
In a heavy-based saucepan, melt the sugar, butter and honey together.  Stir briefly until the butter melts into the sugar.  Do not stir again to prevent the sugar from crystallsing.  Bring to the boil and cook until the syrup reaches 120 degrees Celsius on a sugar thermometer.  Alternately: if a little drop of the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water.
Immediately pour the syrup over your nut and spice mixture. Work quickly to combine all the ingredients evenly.  Pour into your prepared tin and smooth with the top of a spatula. If you find the spatula sticking to the mixture, just wet it with a bit of water.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes.  Unlike other cakes, Panforte will not seem very firm when cooked, but it will harden as it cools down.  Once cool, remove from the cake tin and place on your serving dish.  To serve, dust with icing sugar.

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