Saturday, December 17, 2011

Panforte di Siena

Where is Alton Brown (creator and host of Food network, food scientist) when I need him?
I have been holding on to this recipe for several months. It is a famous Tuscan honey and nut cake a specialty at Christmas sold in pretty boxes and served in thin slices.The roots of the recipe go back to the 12th century in Siena. when sugar was not really used in Italy except in Sicily. "Pane" is Italian for bread. "Panforte" in Italian means strong or tough bread. 
Three years ago I was on a trip to Tuscany Region, Siena was one of the stops. 
This a photo of Tuscany region looking out over the wall. Siena is a medieval town surrounded by a wall like a fortress. And I might add breathtaking scenery is in abundance in this region. 

As part of the tour we attended a cooking school for the day. In this picture volunteers had a chance to make the pasta that was going to be used  for our main meal. I am in back wearing an apron over a brown shirt. 
Well back to why I need Alton Brown. He is a food scientist who investigates on his shows why certain ingredients work well together and the food chemistry of recipes. I had several questions regarding Panforte di Siena ingredients. There was no oil, eggs or butter and very little liquid listed. Yikes! I thought how can this work? I checked out several other recipes to make sure the ingredients listed were the same as this recipe well as cooking time. 
For once I even carefully followed the directions. After placing in oven my Panforte di Siena watch began. Even my husband and Bella kept peering through the little glass window waiting for the cake to rise. 
Have you ever baked and asked yourself these questions: Why isn't it rising? Why doesn't it look like the picture? What could I have done differently? Well, when the timer went off I was still on the fence for this recipe. I let it cool down completely and carefully wrapped in foil for the 24 hour wait and then the big reveal with the dusting of confectioner's sugar needed to complete the presentation. 
According to my reading this is a type of fruitcake that will keep for weeks without refrigeration. How good is that!
I am happy to say that the cake does have a very good flavor. It is dense and a bit chewy AND is a lot better than the traditional fruitcake served at holiday time.  
Panforte di Siena
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup crushed almonds
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup peeled hazelnuts-finely chopped (can toast in oven and when warmed remove the skins)
  • 1 cup dried apricots (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup crystallized pineapple (it comes in small pieces)
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit such as figs or candied citrus peel (finely chopped)
  • grated peel of one orange
  • juice of one orange
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 2 TB. unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice 

Directions:
  • Add chopped nuts to finely chopped fruits, add grated orange 
  • In a separate bowl mix flour, allspice, cocoa and cinnamon
  • Mix flour mixture with nut mixture
  • Line a 8 inch cake pan with parchment paper 
  • Very lightly grease parchment paper
  • In saucepan over low- heat juice, sugar and honey till sugar dissolves
  • Increase heat a bit and boil gently 5 minutes or until mixture thickened 
  • Quickly add this honey mixture to nut/flour mixture and mix well
  • Turn into prepared pan and level top with back of a damp spoon
  • Bake in preheated oven  @ 300 for 35 minutes
  • Cool in pan completely till cooled
  • Invert onto foil and wrap for 24 hours
  • Before serving dredge top with confectioners sugar




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