A Bit of Tuscan Perfection!
Before you yell “fruitcake” and run for the exits – lend me an ear for just a minute. I’m about to tell you the story of a cake with fruit and nuts that isn’t just a fruitcake. I’m talking about PANFORTE DI SIENA. This is something you’ll really want to consider. When I was a little girl in Binghamton, NY, I wouldn’t touch the stuff. If I did try it on occasion, I spent more time picking out the fruit, leaving not much else, than eating it. Che peccato. (What a pity.) Talk about missing out! Then… I grew up. What changed other than my height and shoe size? I discovered COCKTAILS!! What?? More about that later.
A little history: PANFORTE DI SIENA is historically a Tuscan delight. This treasure is centuries old going back to the 12th –13th centuries in Siena. In those days, it was usually the upper classes who enjoyed it because they could afford the precious fruits, nuts, and spices that were the ingredients required. It was so precious that it was sometimes used as a form of payment. During the Crusades, it was packaged for the long treks into foreign lands – perfect for this form of travel as it lasted a LONG time.
Panforte means “strong bread”. I don’t know about “strong”, but it is VERY dense, containing not much more than fruits, nuts, spice, honey, and does contain a little rum. There is NO sugar in it! This little wonder is incredibly easy to make in not very much time. Everything is basically thrown together and baked! I almost want to say “it’s good for you!” People who generally don’t care for fruitcake love this stuff. It is really different.
The cocktail thing: Ahhhh! So now I’ve got your attention. Many of you may have enjoyed a very expensive Spanish Fig Cake, sold at Whole Foods and some grocers, by the slice for $7.- $9. each! It is suggested that you serve it with savory cheese – sometimes a Manchego or Tuscan or a Rosemary Asiago, etc. The fruits and honey in the cake pair very well with the savory nature of these cheeses. It happens to be one of my very favorite ways to offer cheese with cocktails or wine. But REALLY! Seven to nine dollars a slice?? NEWSFLASH: PANFORTE DI SIENA is your new Spanish Fig Cake – only it is better and a lot less expensive.
Make the cake, and serve slices all through the Christmas season. Even better – serve it any time all year long with savory cheese the way I do, and say arrivederci to the expensive stuff.
A giftie? By the way – this is a great gift idea. Wrap a nice slice in plastic wrap and a ribbon accompanied by a savory cheese, and give it to a friend in a little bag or basket. You can also bake this in a muffin tin and make individual cakes for giving! For a more substantial gift, add a nice red wine. When your friends start eating their cheese this way – you’ll be getting lots of raves. The two together are really quite perfect!
There you have it! The story of PANFORTE DI SIENA or “How Cocktails Changed My View of Fruitcake”!
Some tips: This cake has a very dense consistency and firms up as it cools. Using a wet knife to cut it ensures a nicer cleaner slice. It keeps for a month or more in the refrigerator. I suggest serving it at room temperature to appreciate the best flavor. Try a dark chocolate drizzle for a different serving idea.
It’s almost time for cocktails…somewhere! Andiamo!
PANFORTE DI SIENA
Makes: one 9 inch cake
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
1/2 C. Ground almonds
1 C. Flour
2 Tsp. Anise Seed
1 Tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 Tsp. Allspice
1/4 Tsp. Nutmeg
2 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
1 C. Toasted Almonds – very coarsely chopped – leaving some whole if you like. I use a mallet to chop them.
1 C. Chopped Dates (do not use pre-chopped dates for this – use whole dates and chop by hand or in food processor)
1/2 C. Dried Figs – coarsely chopped
1/c C. Candied Lemon peel – chopped
1/2 C. Candied Orange peel – chopped
1 C. Honey – local is always best!
1/4 c. Rum or Brandy
Topping: 1/2 Tsp. Cinnamon mixed with 2 Tbsp. Powdered Sugar
I suggest using a 9 inch springform pan – greased.
Mix the ground almonds, flour, seed, spices, and cocoa powder together in one bowl.
In another bowl, mix the toasted almonds, dates, figs, and peels in another bowl.
Then combine the ingredients in both bowls and mix well.
Heat the honey and liquor, stir, and then pour into the bowl of combined ingredients.
Mix well and pour into the greased springform. Smooth out the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
When finished remove the springform edge.
Invert the cake onto a platter and carefully remove the springform pan bottom for a nice smooth cake top.
Sift the powdered sugar and cinnamon over the top, and put some on the sides as well.
This cake keeps a month or more in the refrigerator. I like to use a wet knife to cut the slices.
Serve the cake at room temperature as a dessert or along with savory cheese.
The aroma of PANFORTE DI SIENA will test your resistance for sure when it fills your home with the intense fragrance of the season!
PARLA COME MANGI!
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