Siena’s many pastry shops prepare an array of different panforti, a spicy, chewy distant cousin of fruitcake. Although recipes abound, none of Siena’s panforte manufacturers will reveal the exact formula. This version comes from my memory of eating much panforte in Siena and from Giovanni Righi Parenti’s wonderful chapter on panforte in La grande cucina toscana (Tuscany’s Great Cooking).
Old recipes for panforte do not contain honey as an ingredient, because formerly a special type of candied fruit, fermented in a honey syrup, was used in the dough. Nowadays honey is added to the dough to produce a similar flavor.
Usually the panforte is baked in a mold lined with edible wafer paper, called ostia in Italian and Oblaten in German. Stores that carry German and Eastern European foods sell Oblaten for making traditional Christmas cakes and cookies. See Sources of Equipment and Ingredients or use Chinese edible rice paper, available in Asian markets, which will produce equally good results.
Combine the honey and sugar in a saucepan and stir to mix. Place over low heat and bring to a boil. Simmer the mixture for 2 minutes after it comes to a boil, without stirring.
While the sugar and honey are heating, combine the candied fruit and almonds in a heat-proof mixing bowl. In another bowl, combine the flour and spices and stir to mix. Pour the honey-and-sugar syrup over the candied-fruit-and-almond mixture, add the flour mixture, and stir vigorously to combine. Immediately scrape the dough out of the bowl into the prepared pan. Wet the palm of one hand and press the dough into place. Do not press too hard, since the dough will still be fairly hot. Make the top of the panforte as flat as possible. Combine the flour and cinnamon and sift over the top of the panforte through a small, fine strainer.
Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, checking occasionally that the dough does not come to a boil. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then loosen the panforte from the side of the pan with the tip of a small knife and remove the side of the pan. Slide a knife or spatula between the panforte and the pan bottom and slide it onto a rack to cool completely. If parchment was used, invert the panforte and peel off the paper after the cake has completely cooled; then reinvert.
Brush the flour and cinnamon away from the top of the panforte and dust it with the confectioners’ sugar before serving.
Keep the panforte in a tightly covered tin at room temperature; it will stay fresh for a month.
Confectioners’ sugar for finishing
© 1990 Nick Malgieri. All rights reserved.