Panforte literally means ‘strong bread’. An apt description for this dense, fruit loaf that still retains its medieval flavour. Panforte is also known as Siena cake – Siena possibly being the first Italian city to use sugar and spices such as white pepper. Documents from 1205 show that panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax or tithe which was due on the seventh of February that year. There are references to the Crusaders carrying panforte, a durable confection, with them on their quests, and to the use of panforte in surviving sieges. Currently there are many shops in Italy producing panforte, each recipe being their jealously guarded interpretation of the original confection and packaged in distinctive wrapping. Usually a small wedge is served with coffee or a dessert wine after a meal, though some enjoy it with their coffee at breakfast.
105 g hazelnuts
115 g almonds
125 g candied mixed peel, chopped
100 g candied pineapple, chopped
grated zest of 1 lemon
80 g plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of white pepper
140 g sugar
4 tbsps honey
50 g unsalted butter
Line a 23 cm (9 inch) springform tin with rice paper or baking paper and grease well with butter. Toast the nuts under the hot grill (broiler), turning them so they brown on all sides, then leave to cool. Put the nuts in a bowl with the mixed peel, pineapple, lemon zest, flour and spices and toss together. preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F, gas 2).
Put the sugar, honey and butter in a saucepan and melt them together. Cook the syrup until it reaches 120°C (250°F) on a sugar thermometer, or a little of it dropped into a cold water forms a soft ball when molded between your finger and thumb.
Pour the syrup into the fruit and nut mixture and mix well, working fast before it stiffens too much. Pour straight into the tin, smooth the surface and bake for 35 minutes. Unlike other cakes this will neither firm up as it cooks or colour at all so you need to time it carefully.
Cool in the tin until the cake firms up enough to remove the side of the tin. Peel off the paper and leave to cool completely. Dust the top heavily with icing sugar.