|A slice of panforte ready to be eaten, heavy with nuts and dusted with icing sugar|
I'm no stranger to panforte (which means "strong bread"). We had it in the house, at Christmas, when we were children. Unlike almost every other food stuff in our house (save for panettone), it was always shop bought, and awful. Dense and way too clove-y with dusty tasting nuts, it was like something someone had made from what was left in the cupboard after all the good Christmas things had been produced.
When Zia Nigella brought out her Nigella's Christmas, two years ago, it was, weirdly, the recipe for panforte which intrigued me. I say weirdly because it's a mystery why I would want to try to make it after my experiences.
But I did.
Well, it was a revelation. It is easy to make, although the ingredient list is not short (or cheap, what with the price of nuts these days). It is delicious, but not in that "I must eat more and more and more until I'm sick" way. A thin slice with a glass of something small, and pert, is perfect. It keeps - so it can be made before Christmas (I'm not going to say "ahead of" since I HATE THAT PHRASE. What happened to 'before'? It is being outsted). And a thick wedge, wrapped in cellophane would make for a really original little present for a host.
Zia Nigella's recipe is perfect, and in my opinion, cannot be bettered. Actually that's not entirely true. But the only change I make is that I make my own candied peel , which isn't hard, a few days before the panforte. I think it really makes it.
Here it is:
125g almonds with skins on
100g blanched almonds
125g whole hazelnuts (with skins on is fine)
75g soft figs, scissored into 2cm x 1cm pieces
200g candied peel , scissored as above.
half a teaspoon of ground cloves
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
A good grating of fresh nutmeg
50g plain flour
a pinch of white pepper
1 x 15ml tablespoon of cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
150g honey (runny or solid is fine as it all melts down)
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat your oven to 170C/gas mark 3. Line the bottom and sides of a 20cm cake tin. I use a cake liner cos I'm extremely lazy.
Take a heat proof bowl. It doesn't need to be heat proof in the sense you're going to have to cook with it, you don't, but you will be pouring hot stuff into it in a minute, so don't use something that's, you know, papier mache or something.
In this bowl, mix together the nuts, dried fruits, candied peel. Into this add the cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, white pepper and cocoa powder.
Put the sugar, honey and butter into a saucepan and gently melt. When done, take off the heat and pour over the dry ingredients. Now mix together. "Stir slowly and patiently" says Nigella and I agree. Think about what Christmas really means (presents and someone, undoubtedly, being ill).
Everything needs to be well coated. Tip the lot into the tin and try to press down as much as you can so you get a flattish surface. You WON'T get a level surface, so don't panic, but do your best. Anyway when the panforte is out of the oven, and still warm (and has been out for a bit, don't do it when it first comes out), you can press it down some more. I do this when it comes out of the oven with the end of my rolling pin (which is flat).
Bake for 40 mins. It's 'done' when it's bubbling. Do not panic when you take it out if it looks all soft. You shouldn't anyway, be touching it (leave it ALONE). Don't be tempted to cut a slice and think 'it's all soft still'. As it cools it will harden.
|This is the panforte just before it went into the oven|
When completely cold, lift out of tin and dust prettily with icing sugar. What you'll have is a lovely chewy, nutty thing that tastes wonderfully of Christmas.