Holiday baking traditions: Panforte

You know, I never, EVER thought I’d utter the following words:

I like panforte.

But I do; I really do.

Growing up, this classic Italian Christmas sweet fell under the heading of “icky sticky stuff with weird nuts and peels.” I mean, why put a piece of panforte in your mouth, when you could oh-so-easily munch on a gingerbread cookie or a Snickers bar?

I frequent Boston’s North End on Christmas Eve, and I’m drawn to the torrone and the pizzelle, the heaps of nuts and beautiful candied fruits; but panforte has always left me cold.

Why? I just can’t get past that bitter candied peel: lemon, orange, and citron.

I mean, there’s a reason you peel oranges and lemons before you eat them, right? If the skin tasted good, we could bite into an orange just like we do an apple, peel and all.

Thus has panforte been permanently relegated to my list of “don’t go there” foods.

Until now.

We don’t always get to pick and choose which recipes we’ll blog here. Panforte wasn’t my first choice for these Holiday Traditions emails; I was assigned it. But in the spirit of “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to make it, at least.

Some experimentation with the balance of ingredients (six tries, actually) yielded a good-looking panforte, one that filled the pan, held its shape, and was suitably packed with nuts and fruit.

Beautiful! But did I dare taste it?

Indeed I did. And discovered that, in the company of honey and nuts, the candied peel’s bitter note is exactly right. I mean, PERFECT.

I still wouldn’t put candied peel in fruitcake. But you know what? I’ll be buying peel and making panforte again next year, for sure.

Preheat your oven to 300°F.

We’re going to toast some nuts first, so they can cool a bit while we make the cake batter.

Measure out 1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds, and 1 1/4 cups skinned hazelnuts.

Toast the hazelnuts and almonds for 20 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. It’s best to do this in separate pans, as they toast at slightly different rates, and you may want to take one pan out of the oven before the other. Remove the nuts from the oven, and set them aside to cool a bit.

When you can handle them, chop them coarsely.

Since almonds and hazelnuts are different sizes/heights, it helps to chop them in separate batches, rather than together.

Chop them quite coarsely; if some remain whole, that’s OK.

Here’s one of the key ingredients in panforte: candied peel. Orange, lemon

…or mixed peel, which also includes citron, are all good choices.

Put the toasted, chopped nuts, along with the following, in a large heat-proof bowl:

3 cups (16 ounces) candied mixed peel, or a mixture of candied orange peel and candied lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (3 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Stir to combine.

Line an 8″ round cake pan with parchment (or foil), and grease the parchment.

Combine the following in a saucepan:

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons butter

Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Using an instant-read or candy thermometer, boil the syrup, stirring frequently, till it reaches a temperature of about 245°F. This happens very quickly, so don’t walk away; it should take about 2 minutes (or less) from the time the syrup starts to boil.

Immediately pour the boiling syrup over the fruit and nuts in the bowl.

Stir to combine.

pour into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula (or your wet fingers; it cools down quickly, and you shouldn’t find it overly hot). You need to work fast, as the mixture will start to stiffen up.

Place the cake pan on a baking sheet, to catch any potential spills.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes; it won’t seem firm, but will set as it cools.

Remove it from the oven. The edges, an inch or so in, will look more set than the center; that’s OK.

fter 45 minutes, loosen the edges with a table knife or heat-proof spatula.

Like this.

Turn the warm panforte out of the pan onto a piece of parchment or foil.

Peel off the parchment.

The bottom is now the top.

Sprinkle the top of the panforte heavily with confectioners’ sugar, gently rubbing it in, if desired.

Or, don’t rub it in; the snowy effect is nice, too.

Let the panforte cool completely before wrapping airtight. Store it at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To serve this rich cake, cut it in thin wedges. The wedge pictured is rather hefty, but would be appropriate for a dedicated sweet-lover.

Now, how about chocolate panforte? That’s actually what’s pictured at the top of this post.

Add 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa to the nuts/peel/flour mixture. Melt 1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips; stir them into the nuts/peel/flour along with the honey syrup. Bake as directed in the original recipe.

Dark and delicious!

I like the “edge” chocolate adds.

Finally – if you really don’t want to try candied peel; plus you’re in somewhat of a hurry, take the easy road.  Use an 8-ounce bag of our pre-chopped, pre-toasted hazelnuts in place of the hazelnuts and almonds.

And try a 1-pound mixture of our favorite fruit blend and candied red cherries, in place of the peel.

Prepare and bake as directed.

You’ll make a lovely, dark cake…

…perfect for panforte scaredy-cats!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Panforte.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Helen Koltick

    I have made this several times and its wonderful. Can someone please recommend bake times for smaller size cakes? As well as quantity of each size. And do you think this would work in paper bakers? I would like to use the 2-1/4″ paper bakers as well as 6″ bakers or 6″ pans with removable bottoms.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Helen. For the 2 1/4″ paper bakers, the bake time will be around 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on it to ensure the nuts don’t burn. For a 6″ pan, bake time would be closer to 30 minutes. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Maureen McElderry

    Greetings. I would like a “print” button on here but don’t see it. Wonderful to find this recipe! Thank you PJ! Happy Holidays

    Reply
  3. www.decocinasytacones.blogspot.com

    Thanks for sharing this recipe!. It looks like a perfect dessert for any day during Christmas time!
    Hi from the north of Spain.
    Marialuisa

    Reply
  4. karenbrat1

    Hmm, I wonder if one used only cherries, walnuts, and pineapple, would it come out similar to the Harry & David “Fruit Cake Confection”?

    Not familiar with that particular Harry & David treat, Karen, but might as well give it a try, right? The choice of fruits/nuts sounds delicious… PJH

    Reply
  5. torchy

    Tonia
    Would you please consider posting your German grandmothers recipe for Pfeffernuse? We lost our grandmothers recipe a long time ago and have not found the perfect recipe to replace it… Maybe yours will be what we are missing!

    Reply
  6. volprincess

    My cousin’s brought a little circle of panforte back from Tuscany several years ago. I took one bite and said “this tastes like Christmas”, and have been looking for a recipe since. Made this one tonight to bring home for Christmas.

    1) It’s phenomenal (though I’m sure I’ll do some tweaking for next year.)
    2) I baked most of it in a 8″ cake pan and some in a smaller 4″ pan with a removable bottom. In the future, I’ll always use a removable bottom as it was much easier to get out. I liked using the smaller pans too and did not end up reducing the cooking time much.
    3) I was worried that they wouldn’t hold together….mine looked much drier than yours. (Maybe my candied fruit had less moisture?) So I called the hotline and asked about adding more sugar/honey/butter mixture. I ended up almost doubling it. Thanks for the hotline….especially Matt; what a great resource!

    Our Baker’s Hotline direct number is 802-649-3717. Call us with your baking dilemmas! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  7. Christine Bongiovanni

    Oh my gosh!! I just found your blog and am so HAPPY! I have been searching, just the past couple of weeks, for a panforte recipe. I did find another but I’m so glad to have this one as well! My grandfather used to own a bakery and, so my dad tells me, he would get imported panforte for the holidays. I had it for the first time in Siena and brought some home to share at our holiday celebration. Can’t wait to try this!! THANK YOU!

    Reply
  8. pettersmith

    This is very nice and i have never seen this type of food before. Its seen very tasty and very delicious too. i have never seen such blog in my entire life. I just could wish to eat this plat once. I cant stop my self.

    Reply
  9. wendyb964

    i have purchased this in a wedge in Europe for years. NOT a fan of candied fruit, I seem to remember dates/figs, or other chewy goodness. I’d like to try it with organic dried fruit soaked in brandy or other liquor. would you suggest chopping the fruit fairly small, soaking it, and then straining/draining, and letting dry for awhile? Not usually a date/fig fan, the combo of chewy, not too sweet, and lots of yummy nuts often sits in our freezer for months before I find it: just a small wedge with tea in the afternoon is the pick-me-up that is soooo NOT English. Believe I’ve purchased the best in Funchal, Portugal, but, as with so many items, it depends on one’s taste. YUM! Now all I have to do is get well so I can get to cooking!!!

    I’ve never tried pan forte with soaked fruit. I think it would be too wet. Give it a try and let us all know the results. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  10. folksmith

    i love panforte. i will be sure to try your recipe this season. i try and make it every Christmas, even though i’m the only one who will eat it. i even love fruit cake!

    Reply

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