Recipe: Panforte

I’ve just done a massive cookbook cull so naturally I found myself ogling cookbooks again the other day. If all I did was ogle them, it wouldn’t be a problem, but ogling inevitably leads to browsing, which leads to detailed contemplation of recipes, which leads to me buying yet another cookbook…

Anyway, this one is called Chocolate, and it’s written by Kirsten Tibballs, who runs the excellent Savour Chocolate and Pâtisserie school in Brunswick. I liked it because it had a good mix of quite simple recipes and hellaciously complicated ones, as well as recipes for a couple of things I’ve made in classes there and meant to make again, only my recipes from the classes always wind up covered in chocolate and butter for some reason…

Anyway, because I am me, I wound up starting by attempting the Siena Panforte recipe. Except, I don’t like dried figs, or pecans very much, and I needed to make the recipe gluten-free, and I had all this glacé fruit in the pantry including glacé blood orange, and also the ratio of nuts to fruit was clearly nowhere near high enough, and actually I didn’t have quite enough almonds or quite enough pecans, but I did have a lot of pistachios, and then my hand slipped with the pistachios, and of course by the end of it, I had a completely different recipe. Which I wasn’t sure I’d like because I don’t like Panforte (yes, I know, my thought processes here make no sense to me, either).

And then it turned out to be delicious, and all my colleagues reckoned it was the best thing they’d ever tasted, and I thought, oh bugger, I have no idea how much of anything I used, really.

So then I came home and had to reverse engineer the recipe and remember what I changed where and what numbers I saw on the scale, because I actually did want to make this again now, and I wasn’t entirely sure I knew how. And I certainly didn’t, because the second batch came out alarmingly gooey (though still delicious). So this recipe is based on batch three, which I did not measure very precisely in the glacé fruit department – but having said that, the crucial factor seems to be the cooking time, and that is definitely correct.

Your shopping list

120 g blanched almonds, whole
45 g pecans
45 g pistachios
150 g dark chocolate
75 g butter
190 g honey (from the Science Bees!)
65 g caster sugar
2 glacé pears (? 75 g)
1 large glacé apricot (? 40 g)
10 glacé cherries
1 slice glacé blood orange
175 g gluten-free flour mix
25 g cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
icing sugar

Now what will you do with it?

Toast the nuts at 160°C for 10-15 minutes until the almonds are golden. Let cool briefly. Turn the oven up to 170°C.

Put a sheet of baking paper on a flat baking tray and sit a 20 cm cake ring (or the ring/sides of a loose-bottomed cake tin) on top, and grease that.

Slice up all the glacé fruit. You want the pears and apricots to be a reasonable size – I sliced the pears 5mm thick crosswise, to make slices, and I sliced the apricot in two horizontally, and then sliced the halves 5mm thick, to make slivers. The cherries should be halved, and the glacé blood orange chopped as small as you have the patience for. I don’t have much patience, so it was dice of about 7mm square or so.

Melt together the chocolate, butter, honey and sugar until completely melted.

Stir in the nuts, glacé fruit, and then all the dry ingredients except the icing sugar.

Pour and scrape the whole lot into the prepared tin, and use your hands to flatten it down – it’s a sticky, heavy dough, and you might want to wet your hands.

Bake for around 20 minutes, or until it feels just barely springy in the middle – for me, that was when there was a fair bit of bubble at the sides, but if I pressed lightly in the centre with my finger, it was soft but didn’t feel like it was liquid inside. Also, that left a finger print, but that doesn’t matter because you will now…

Cool in tin until it reaches room temperature. This takes a surprisingly long time. Like, hours. Remove ring from cake, put the cake on a plate, and dust well with icing sugar. No more finger prints, and it looks very classy!

(But I do hope you washed your hands before leaving finger prints, because aesthetics is one thing, but hygiene is another, which is quite the statement coming from someone whose kitchen is in the state mine is generally in…)

Serve cut into narrow wedges. I found it gave me 16 nice slices.

Variations

Glacé fruits are not very common ingredients, but dried really are not the same – I’d be inclined to say swap with a different glacé fruit rather than the same fruit dry for this. Glacé figs and peaches are both good choices. If you can’t get glacé blood orange, you could omit it, or use glacé orange, or mixed peel, or even glacé ginger, for a different, but equally appealing flavour. Traditionally, one uses dried figs instead of the glacé pears but I don’t much like dried figs. I’ll concede they are easier to find in a shop, however.

This is gluten-free because I was making it with gluten-free folk in mind, but obviously plain flour does just fine. It’s terrible for fructose/FODMAP people, however. You should be able to make it vegan with agave nectar instead of honey, and a good quality margarine, neutral coconut oil, or maybe one of these combined with cocoa butter. It is, obviously, full of nuts, and since that is basically the point of panforte, I’m afraid a nut-free variation is not on the cards.

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