Sunday, June 23, 2024

How to make Italian Panforte di Siena

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Panforte, as the name suggests, is a celebratory Italian cake.

“Pan” (bread) and “forte” (powerful) are good ways to describe this rich fruit and nut-filled cake.

Its origins date back to medieval Siena, Tuscany, where bread flavored with honey and pepper was paid as a tax to local monks. When the spice trade introduced the treasure trove of spices to Italy through Venice, more spices were added to bread, which became a Christmas tradition.

Panforte has a hard and sticky packaging. A hodgepodge of nuts, fruit, and dried spices, bound by a slick of honey syrup and chocolate, the cake solidifies as it cools, nudging into confectionery territory. It may not sound like a cake, but panforte is delicious.

Adding dark and unsweetened chocolate balances out the sugar and adds spice and warm, earthy flavors.

The cake is especially firm, so you can slowly enjoy each small bite as it melts in your mouth. Because of its texture, panforte is best enjoyed in smaller slices, making it ideal for accompaniment to coffee or digestifs, or as a winter accent to a cheese board.

This is an all-season cake, meaning you can literally eat it all year round. Make it now and store it in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks at room temperature or 3 months in the refrigerator.


yield: Makes 1 (8-9 inch) cake


  • 1 cup hazelnuts (toasted, skinned and chopped)
  • 1 cup almonds (toasted and chopped)
  • 1 cup chopped dried mission figs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped candied oranges
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 oz. finely chopped dark chocolate (72%)
  • Confectionery sugar for decoration


1. Heat oven to 320 degrees (160 degrees C). Grease an 8- to 9-inch springform pan with butter and line with parchment paper.

2. Combine hazelnuts, almonds, figs, candied oranges, and raisins in a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, add flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, pepper, salt, coriander, cloves, and nutmeg. Whisk to mix. Pour over the nut and fruit mixture and stir.

4. Place honey and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate and mix until smooth.

5. Quickly pour the sugar mixture over the fruit and nuts. Stir to combine (the mixture will quickly thicken; keep stirring to mix thoroughly). Spread into prepared cake pan (it will be sticky) and smooth out the surface.

6. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for 30 minutes, then remove from the pan. Let the cake cool completely (the cake will continue to set). Once cool, sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over the top of the cake.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning author, cookbook author, recipe developer, and author of the blog TasteFood. Other recipes can be found at: chicago.suntimes.com/taste.

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