I was sorting out the food cellar and larder yesterday, as you do when it's minus 13 outside, you're snowed in, the paint you want to use is frozen solid in the workshop and it's too cold to mix up your tile cement or do any of the things marked 'desperately urgent' on your jobs list. (I even defrosted the freezer. Mad? No, not really - no worries about keeping stuff frozen - I just piled it all up on the snow outside the cellar door ...). Anyway, in the depths of the larder I came across a jar of lemon peel that I'd inadvertently (long story) candied last year and forgotten about. Idly wondering what to do with it, I switched on the laptop to check the mail and there was the latest blog post from David Lebovitz, one of my favourite food bloggers, with a recipe for panforte.
I love panforte. It's a speciality of Sienna: a kind of rich, dense, sweet and chewy dessert cake, with lots of fruit and nuts (and candied lemon peel!) and more than a hint of spices - perfect after dinner with a strong coffee and a glass of Strega. I've eaten it many times, during and after our winter trips to Tuscany in the restaurant days, but I'd never made it, nor had a clue to how to make it. The combination of David's blog, my jar of lemon peel and and sheer frustration at the way the weather here is holding up the jobs list big time propelled me into the kitchen for a spot of comfort cooking.
I discovered that panforte is not difficult to make, although you do have to work fast when you're mixing the melted chocolate and the honey syrup into the dry ingredients. This is my slightly amended version of David's recipe:
40g unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting the tin
200g chopped nuts - I used almonds and the last of our own walnuts
100g chopped dried apricots
200g chopped candied lemon peel
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground red chilli
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
85g dark chocolate, chopped
210g clear honey
1. Preheat the oven to 165ºC.
2. Line the bottom of a 22cm springform tin with parchment paper. Dust the inside, including the sides, with cocoa powder.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, dried fruit, nuts, flour, candied peel, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, mixed spice, and red chilli.
4. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir it into the nut mixture.
5. Gently heat the sugar and honey to115ºC.
6. Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture and immediately stir it all well to mix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
7. Bake the panforte for 30-35 minutes; the centre will feel soft, like just-baked custard, and if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done. Let it cool in the tin on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen it. Remove the springform carefully, then let cool completely.
Once it's cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Then wrap it up and put it away for a few days to bring out the flavours. When you're ready to eat it, dust the top with icing sugar and rub it in with your fingers.
Here it is just out of the oven:
And how it will look when it's dusted and cut (this is David's photo: mine's not at that stage yet!):
Right now it's wrapped up, maturing ....... though for how long I'll have the willpower to leave it there I don't know! If it's good it's likely to find its way onto our winter menus ...
My favourite weather forecaster, Laurent Cabrol on Europe 1, announced this morning that we would almost certainly see a change in the weather in the middle of the month ... though probably not for the better. All the forecasts seem to agree that the 'big freeze' is likely to continue until the end of the month, possibly through into March. Minus 16 predicted for us tonight (with a 'feels like' figure of minus 19 ...). We're still snowed/iced in, though rumour has it that our neighbour may attempt a breakout tomorrow. Watch this space.