During our open studio weekends, I made Panforte to serve to guests that stayed on for coffee. Sometimes, however, we were so busy that I didn’t get time for chat and coffee, being constantly engaged in discussing pots, glazes, forms and firing techniques at the wrapping bench. So two cakes lasted the whole weekend, instead of the usual ten minutes.
I was taught to make panforte with a very simple recipe. It isn’t really a cake, it’s something closer to a bread, but with lots of spices and a little sweetness. The ones that are commercially available here from Italy are a lot sweeter and much softer than this rather traditional version.
I suspect that there are as many different recipes for Sienna cake as there are housewives that cook it in Sienna. However, after watching a recent cooking show from Italy with interviews with some of the locals, it was teased out that in the new/modern Italian household of 2 parents and 1 child, with both parents working, there isn’t a lot of home cooking going on any more. That has been left mostly to Nona. The microwave and pre-packs reign supreme these days in modern busy households , just as they do in Australia.
So here is my variation on an old fashioned, not so sweet, rather chewy, recipe for Panforte. It’s not so surprising that I think that it is a little like a sweet kind of bread, as the name panforte means ‘bread-strong ‘. I think that the strong part refers to the fragrance and flavours of the spices?
I was originally taught to use;
1 cup of flour
1 cup of almonds
1 cup of dried fruit
and one cup of honey – So easy to remember!
What could be more wholesome, natural and simple? Well, that is what attracted me to the recipe, but I found it a little lacking in dried fruit and way too sweet for my taste. So I altered it over time, a little bit at a time, slowly arriving at the following recipe, which I currently use.
1 cup of flour
1 cup of almonds, crushed with the side of a large knife or roughly sliced
1 cup of dried apricots, roughly sliced
1 cup of glacé cherries
1 cup of tiny dried currents
1 cup of other mixed dried fruits and candied peel. I made my own dried candied peel. It keeps really well in the fridge and last for ages. see;
1/4 cup of honey, which is then topped up with hot water and dissolved. I use local bush honey. We used to use our own when we had the bees. Sometimes I use Tasmanian ‘Leatherwood’ honey, as it is particularly fragrant and compliments the other spices.
There is a concoction of dried spices added to the mix, and these are not weighed or really measured. I suppose that they may have been once upon a time, but I’ve completely lost track of what that might have been.
These days I add a generous shake or small spoon full of some or all of the following;
Cinnamon powder. This is the most important, so more of this. Maybe 2 level tea spoons. Then there is powdered cloves, also important, but very strong, so a lot less is added. Maybe half to one teaspoon, then there is ginger, nutmeg and mixed spice. Mix and match as you think fit.
All the dry ingredients and spices except the honey water, are dry mixed together in a large hand made pottery mixing bowl.
As soon as the warm honey water is mixed in, stir it all together well to incorporate all the dry fruit and flour, so that it is homogenous. Do this quickly because as the mixture cools down, it starts to ‘set’ as the honey become more viscous, then it becomes harder to pour it out in the the baking ring.
I made a few stainless steel baking rings, some for my sons restaurant, and a few for us. I keep giving them away and making more. I use a ring that is about 200 mm dia and 20mm high.
Grease a baking tray and the rings. I use olive oil to avoid using butter. I like butter. No! I love butter, but I’d rather enjoy my small allocation of butter in other ways. Olive oil works well in this way and the strength of the spices masks any minimal olive flavour residue.
I sprinkle a 50/50 mixture of flour and icing sugar, mixed with some cinnamon and clove powder onto the tray and pour the soft cake mixture into the ring onto of the flour mix. Use any left over mix to sprinkle on top.
Bake for about 40 minutes at 180oC. Check if it’s done by inserting a knife. Allow it to cool on a wire rack, then wrap it up in lunch-wrap paper. It keeps for ages in the fridge, but only if you forget about it. Otherwise it gets eaten very quickly, as it is very popular.
It’s a lovely special treat that I make a couple of times a year, so as to keep it special.