If this were television I know just what I would do right now: Rerun last year's Christmas Week story about my family's Feast of the Seven Fishes celebration. I could run it over and over, just like the Yule Log, except not as annoying. (Would it kill them to throw on a couple new logs every once in a while?)
If you have an interest in this traditional Christmas Eve feast, click on the link above and you will be transported to Aunt Anna's and Rita's table. Me? I will grudgingly accept the idea that other traditions exist, and move forward as best that I can.
Panforte may not be the best known Christmas sweet, but it is among Italy's oldest. Basically a round, flat fruitcake, panforte is said to have first appeared in ancient Tuscany, in Sienna, possibly as early as the 1200s. Panforte means "strong bread," referring to its spicey flavor. However, "strong" also describes the cake's sturdiness and, if stored properly, longevity.
Enough with the history lesson, let's make us some fruitcake. I'm not going to lie to you. This is the first panforte I have ever made. Despite this, I decided to wing it. The recipe I referred to, specifically for technique, was from Nick Malgieri's "Great Italian Desserts." However, enough got changed in my version that I doubt Nick would approve and so don't blame him if it doesn't work out, blame me.
Here you have a mixture of hazelnuts and almonds (3/4 cup of each), plus diced candied orange peel (3/4 cup) and citron (1 cup). The nuts get lightly toasted and then mixed together in a bowl with the orange peel and citron. In a separate bowl mix together flour (3/4 cups), cinnamon (1 teaspoon), and 1/4 teaspoon each of coriander, cloves and nutmeg. Now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. And line a 10-inch pie pan (with removable bottom) in parchment paper. Butter the parchment and an inch or two of the inside wall of the pan.
In a saucepan add honey (3/4 cup) and sugar (1/4 cup). Mix together and then warm at a low flame. Allow this to boil for about 2 minutes.
Pour the boiled honey and sugar over the nuts, orange peel and citron and stir together quickly. Then add the flour and cinnamon mix and stir thoroughly.
Pour into the baking pan and begin to spread evenly throughout.
Using wet fingers complete the even distribution of the mix.
Mix together flour (2 tablespoons) and cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon). Using a sifter cover the entire panforte with the mixture, then place in the oven. Start checking on it after 25 minutes or so, but the panforte could take longer than that.
This one was in the oven for 45 minutes. You can see that the flour-and-cinnamon mix remains; just brush it off. At this stage you've got yourself a completed panforte. All you need to do now is lightly apply confectioners sugar just before serving. If tightly wrapped the panforte will keep for weeks.
Or you might go the nontraditional route, like I did. I wrapped the panforte in cheesecloth, doused it with a serious dose of brandy, then wrapped it in aluminum foil. It will last even longer this way, especially if you add more brandy periodically. (I owe this idea to my friend Tom, a fine maker of all things alcoholic.)
And there you have it. Not exactly the Seven Fishes, but a fine holiday treat nonetheless.
Merry Christmas everybody!