Holiday baking traditions: Panforte

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You know, I never, EVER thought I’d utter the following words:

I like panforte.

But I do; I really do.

Growing up, this classic Italian Christmas sweet fell under the heading of “icky sticky stuff with weird nuts and peels.” I mean, why put a piece of panforte in your mouth, when you could oh-so-easily munch on a gingerbread cookie or a Snickers bar?

I frequent Boston’s North End on Christmas Eve, and I’m drawn to the torrone and the pizzelle, the heaps of nuts and beautiful candied fruits; but panforte has always left me cold.

Why? I just can’t get past that bitter candied peel: lemon, orange, and citron.

I mean, there’s a reason you peel oranges and lemons before you eat them, right? If the skin tasted good, we could bite into an orange just like we do an apple, peel and all.

Thus has panforte been permanently relegated to my list of “don’t go there” foods.

Until now.

We don’t always get to pick and choose which recipes we’ll blog here. Panforte wasn’t my first choice for these Holiday Traditions emails; I was assigned it. But in the spirit of “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to make it, at least.

Some experimentation with the balance of ingredients (six tries, actually) yielded a good-looking panforte, one that filled the pan, held its shape, and was suitably packed with nuts and fruit.

Beautiful! But did I dare taste it?

Indeed I did. And discovered that, in the company of honey and nuts, the candied peel’s bitter note is exactly right. I mean, PERFECT.

I still wouldn’t put candied peel in fruitcake. But you know what? I’ll be buying peel and making panforte again next year, for sure.

Preheat your oven to 300°F.

We’re going to toast some nuts first, so they can cool a bit while we make the cake batter.

Measure out 1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds, and 1 1/4 cups skinned hazelnuts.

Toast the hazelnuts and almonds for 20 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. It’s best to do this in separate pans, as they toast at slightly different rates, and you may want to take one pan out of the oven before the other. Remove the nuts from the oven, and set them aside to cool a bit.

When you can handle them, chop them coarsely.

Since almonds and hazelnuts are different sizes/heights, it helps to chop them in separate batches, rather than together.

Chop them quite coarsely; if some remain whole, that’s OK.

Here’s one of the key ingredients in panforte: candied peel. Orange, lemon

…or mixed peel, which also includes citron, are all good choices.

Put the toasted, chopped nuts, along with the following, in a large heat-proof bowl:

3 cups (16 ounces) candied mixed peel, or a mixture of candied orange peel and candied lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (3 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Stir to combine.

Line an 8″ round cake pan with parchment (or foil), and grease the parchment.

Combine the following in a saucepan:

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons butter

Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Using an instant-read or candy thermometer, boil the syrup, stirring frequently, till it reaches a temperature of about 245°F. This happens very quickly, so don’t walk away; it should take about 2 minutes (or less) from the time the syrup starts to boil.

Immediately pour the boiling syrup over the fruit and nuts in the bowl.

Stir to combine.

pour into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula (or your wet fingers; it cools down quickly, and you shouldn’t find it overly hot). You need to work fast, as the mixture will start to stiffen up.

Place the cake pan on a baking sheet, to catch any potential spills.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes; it won’t seem firm, but will set as it cools.

Remove it from the oven. The edges, an inch or so in, will look more set than the center; that’s OK.

fter 45 minutes, loosen the edges with a table knife or heat-proof spatula.

Like this.

Turn the warm panforte out of the pan onto a piece of parchment or foil.

Peel off the parchment.

The bottom is now the top.

Sprinkle the top of the panforte heavily with confectioners’ sugar, gently rubbing it in, if desired.

Or, don’t rub it in; the snowy effect is nice, too.

Let the panforte cool completely before wrapping airtight. Store it at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To serve this rich cake, cut it in thin wedges. The wedge pictured is rather hefty, but would be appropriate for a dedicated sweet-lover.

Now, how about chocolate panforte? That’s actually what’s pictured at the top of this post.

Add 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa to the nuts/peel/flour mixture. Melt 1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips; stir them into the nuts/peel/flour along with the honey syrup. Bake as directed in the original recipe.

Dark and delicious!

I like the “edge” chocolate adds.

Finally – if you really don’t want to try candied peel; plus you’re in somewhat of a hurry, take the easy road.  Use an 8-ounce bag of our pre-chopped, pre-toasted hazelnuts in place of the hazelnuts and almonds.

And try a 1-pound mixture of our favorite fruit blend and candied red cherries, in place of the peel.

Prepare and bake as directed.

You’ll make a lovely, dark cake…

…perfect for panforte scaredy-cats!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Panforte.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. mariannewardle

    I love panforte, but I’ve been buying it from a local bakery. One suggestion I would make is to divide it and bake it in a smaller pan (I like a 6″)–it’s very sweet, more like a confection than cake, and a little goes a long way. I like putting it out with fruit and cheese.

    Reply
  2. kl0hurose78

    This sounds wonderful. I love holiday baking! When you say “Store it at room temperature for up to 2 months” is this recipe like beer or cordials, it has to “ferment” or gets better if stored? Or it keeps at room temp for up to 2 months? Please clarify. Thanks.

    It doesn’t ferment or change; it just stays good at room temperature for weeks and weeks… like most candies, it needs no refrigeration. I think refrigeration would dry it out, and there’s no need of it. PJH

    Reply
  3. erie

    The recipe says to add the nuts with the spices and peel, but the blog doesn’t mention the nuts at that point. When and where do you add the nuts to the mixture?

    The nuts are added to the same bowl as the spices, flour and candied peels. Sorry for the confusion. kelsey

    Sorry about that – all fixed in the blog. PJH

    Reply
  4. sueko

    I have always avoided pan forte. or actually any fruitcake, because of the bitterness of the citrus peels. A year ago at a local farmer’s market there was a vendor selling pan forte made with dried apricots instead of candied peel. I tried it and bought some, it was fabulous. However, I realize this is not traditional and I think I will try this recipe to see if I like it with the citrus peel. (Now that I can see the process, I might even try to duplicate the apricot version, too). I wonder if I made my own candied orange and lemon peel if I could control the bitterness a bit more? Less pith, shallower cut? Anyone had any experience along these lines?

    I think it would be difficult to make your own peel; you’d have to have so much of it, if you use just the peel, no pith (since the pith is so much thicker than the peel). My suggestion would be to simply use less peel, substituting apricots, dried cranberries, crystallized ginger, or something else for some of the peel. That way, you do get some of the bitterness (which, trust me, is perfect with the honey, as I mentioned); but not a lot. Give it a try – good luck! PJH

    Reply
  5. Ziggy

    What do you think about making these cupcake size? I’m putting together gift baskets with just a bit of lots of things.
    I think baking in cupcake pans should work just fine. Just use the doneness guidelines from the photos in the blog to know when they are baked enough. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. Irene in TO

    I have made my own candied orange peel. Choose navel oranges that have thin fragrant peel. Simmer pieces in water to cover for a half hour and throw that cooking water away. Then add 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar and simmer covered for a half hour. Add another cup of sugar and simmer again.

    This stays moist and is much less bitter than any kind that you can buy. If you want to boost the orange flavour, add some Boyajian oil to the chopped pieces and toss, the day before you want to start baking.
    Thanks for sharing your recipe Irene. I think Susan Reid has shown this in the Baking Sheet too. I guess it’s time to give it a try this holiday season! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  7. Tonia

    I’m making our traditional Nutty Fruitcake (no icky red/green “fruit”, real dried fruit soaked in brandy for several days w/lots of walnuts) tomorrow and will also make this panforte (chocolate variation for sure) too. “Store at room temp for 2 months”. . .that would be about right for brandying the fruitcake — nibble the panforte, brandy the fruitcake. By the time the fruitcake’s ready the pan forte will be gone! Happy baking all!

    Sounds like a plan, Tonia. I kept the panforte wrapped in plastic on my station in the test kitchen. Amazing how it just seemed to get smaller and smaller as the weeks went by. Evaporation?? :) PJH

    Reply
  8. Cindy leigh

    For those candying their own citrus, consider buying organic fruit. When working at a school fundraiser fruit sale, I read all the pesticides and fungicides on the crate. No way I’d want to consume that!

    Very good advice, Cindy – thanks. PJH

    Reply
  9. me

    is the butter necessary to the recipe or can i leave it out?

    if not, can i substitute margarine or oil?

    I’d think you could leave it out – it would be there for the mouth-feel more than anything else, but surely the recipe won’t fail without it. PJH

    Reply
  10. misoranomegami

    I don’t know how far in advance these are made but I want to see something with how you use those winter cookie transfer sheets in the new catalogue! Are they like the chocolate transfer sheets I use sometimes in candy making or are they more like the edible print outs they use in bakeries? Do they have any flavor or texture?
    The sheets are much more like the printouts in bakeries. They have a texture almost like a light fabric, but that melts into the icing. They don’t really taste like anything, so are perfect with all different kinds of icing. I found them really fun to use and very bright and colorful, really eye catching. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  11. pear

    This looks so darn good……..it is much easier to make than I have always thought. Thanks for the help.

    I’d like to have Tonias recipe for her Fruit cake. I do not like the old BRICK fruit cake ……..but I have always loved Fruit cake……

    Reply
  12. Tonia

    Kim F — The Brandied Nutty Fruitcake our family makes is great; soaking the dried fruit in brandy for at least 24 hours (or about 2-3 days!) is fabulous. I also have made a Chocolate Fruitcake where I soak the dried fruit in orange liquor and use pecans and chopped chocolate in place of the walnuts in a chocolate cake base, then once the cake is baked, “soak” the cakes in orange liquor for 1-2 months instead of brandy like for the Nutty fruitcake. It’s great too! I’m looking forward to the chocolate panforte for sure!

    Reply
  13. Tonia

    Made the chocolate version of the panforte replacing dried apricots and candied ginger for part of the orange peel (about 1/3 of each); turned out fabulous! Pear – I’d love to share my recipe for fruitcake. King Arthur: would I send the recipe to you guys and you’d pass it on? Oh, and I have a recipe for Pfeffernuse that I got from my German grandmother if you folks at King Arthur would like to see it.

    Tonia, the best way to share your recipes is to post them to our community site. That way, we can all enjoy them at once. If you don’t ant to share to that extent, you can send me recipes: pj.hamel@kingarthurflour.com. Thanks. Glad the panforte was a success! PJH

    Reply
  14. larrym17

    This recipe sounds wonderful and I will be trying it for the holidays. Does anyone have a good recipe for a sugar free fruitcake? My brother, who lives in upstate NY, loves fruitcake but unfortunately he is now diabetic and cannot have it. I would love to surprise him with a cake he could enjoy.

    Reply
  15. folksmith

    i love panforte. i will be sure to try your recipe this season. i try and make it every Christmas, even though i’m the only one who will eat it. i even love fruit cake!

    Reply
  16. wendyb964

    i have purchased this in a wedge in Europe for years. NOT a fan of candied fruit, I seem to remember dates/figs, or other chewy goodness. I’d like to try it with organic dried fruit soaked in brandy or other liquor. would you suggest chopping the fruit fairly small, soaking it, and then straining/draining, and letting dry for awhile? Not usually a date/fig fan, the combo of chewy, not too sweet, and lots of yummy nuts often sits in our freezer for months before I find it: just a small wedge with tea in the afternoon is the pick-me-up that is soooo NOT English. Believe I’ve purchased the best in Funchal, Portugal, but, as with so many items, it depends on one’s taste. YUM! Now all I have to do is get well so I can get to cooking!!!

    I’ve never tried pan forte with soaked fruit. I think it would be too wet. Give it a try and let us all know the results. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  17. pettersmith

    This is very nice and i have never seen this type of food before. Its seen very tasty and very delicious too. i have never seen such blog in my entire life. I just could wish to eat this plat once. I cant stop my self.

    Reply
  18. Christine Bongiovanni

    Oh my gosh!! I just found your blog and am so HAPPY! I have been searching, just the past couple of weeks, for a panforte recipe. I did find another but I’m so glad to have this one as well! My grandfather used to own a bakery and, so my dad tells me, he would get imported panforte for the holidays. I had it for the first time in Siena and brought some home to share at our holiday celebration. Can’t wait to try this!! THANK YOU!

    Reply
  19. volprincess

    My cousin’s brought a little circle of panforte back from Tuscany several years ago. I took one bite and said “this tastes like Christmas”, and have been looking for a recipe since. Made this one tonight to bring home for Christmas.

    1) It’s phenomenal (though I’m sure I’ll do some tweaking for next year.)
    2) I baked most of it in a 8″ cake pan and some in a smaller 4″ pan with a removable bottom. In the future, I’ll always use a removable bottom as it was much easier to get out. I liked using the smaller pans too and did not end up reducing the cooking time much.
    3) I was worried that they wouldn’t hold together….mine looked much drier than yours. (Maybe my candied fruit had less moisture?) So I called the hotline and asked about adding more sugar/honey/butter mixture. I ended up almost doubling it. Thanks for the hotline….especially Matt; what a great resource!

    Our Baker’s Hotline direct number is 802-649-3717. Call us with your baking dilemmas! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  20. torchy

    Tonia
    Would you please consider posting your German grandmothers recipe for Pfeffernuse? We lost our grandmothers recipe a long time ago and have not found the perfect recipe to replace it… Maybe yours will be what we are missing!

    Reply
  21. karenbrat1

    Hmm, I wonder if one used only cherries, walnuts, and pineapple, would it come out similar to the Harry & David “Fruit Cake Confection”?

    Not familiar with that particular Harry & David treat, Karen, but might as well give it a try, right? The choice of fruits/nuts sounds delicious… PJH

    Reply
  22. www.decocinasytacones.blogspot.com

    Thanks for sharing this recipe!. It looks like a perfect dessert for any day during Christmas time!
    Hi from the north of Spain.
    Marialuisa

    Reply

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