Judy Francini’s Fig & Walnut Panforte, Illustrated

Judy's Fig and Walnut Panforte

Judy’s Fig and Walnut Panforte

Panforte: What Are We Talking About?

Panforte is Siena’s signature Christmas pastry, a concoction made from candied fruit, nuts, honey and spices whose origins fade into the mists of time. One theory holds that it was first made by a nun who discovered mice had gnawed open the bags of spices knights returning from the Crusades had given her convent.

To throw out that much wealth — remember, spices were worth considerably more than gold at the time — was unthinkable, so she combined the contents of the drawer with candied fruit, almonds, nuts, honey, and just enough flour for it all to hold together, shaped the mixture into a disk, and put it in the oven.

It smelled so good when it emerged that she hesitated to taste it, fearing that if she took a bite she’d be unable to stop, thus surrendering to gluttony. And as she hesitated, a cat walked in and said, “What are you waiting for?”

Cats don’t talk but Satan does, and when the nun dumped the cake over him he vanished in an acrid cloud of smoke. By the time the other nuns came, drawn by her screams, the cake’s aroma had eliminated Satan’s stench, and the Mother Superior, wondering what in the world could possibly best The Evil One so handily, ran her finger over the bottom of the pan, and… The Sienese have been making Panforte ever since.

Most published recipes make large quantities, and while one can reduce them, they still call for ingredients that are not easy to find, for example good quality candied citron, candied orange peel, and candied squash rind. Judy Francini has instead developed a recipe that uses dried figs, which are much easier to find, and chopped walnuts instead of almonds.

While it isn’t strictly traditional, it is very tasty, and you will find this sort of variation on absolutely traditional panforte in Siena’s pastry shops.

Judy Francini's Fig & Walnut Panforte: Combine the Honey With the Sugar

Judy Francini’s Fig & Walnut Panforte: Combine the Honey With the Sugar

So… What will you need to make panforte?

Traditional recipes call for pounds of almonds and proportionate volumes of the other ingredients, and result in panforti that are the diameter of a wagon wheel and up to three fingers thick. Judy’s recipe yields a much more manageable quantity.

Before we go further, one very important point: Proportions are important in panforte, and since the weights of cups of chopped ingredients such as dried figs will vary considerably depending upon packing density, Judy heartily recommends using a kitchen scale, and measuring the ingredients by weight.

Judy Francini's Fig & Walnut Panforte: Figs & Walnuts

Judy Francini’s Fig & Walnut Panforte: Figs & Walnuts

To make this walnut and dried fig panforte Judy used:

  • 500 grams (18 ounces) dried figs
  • 500 grams (18 ounces) chopped walnuts
  • 220 grams (about 1 cup) granulated sugar
  • About a half a cup of acacia honey, which is delicate. Any other delicate honey will work, but do keep in mind that quality honey (as opposed to the commercial stuff in bear-shaped squeeze bottles) will give much better results
  • 3/4 cup (about 90 grams) flour
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice mixture or mixed spices (this is discussed anon)
  • A healthy grind from a pepper mill
  • 2 tablespoons bitter cocoa
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Oven parchment
Making Judy's Panforte: Chopping The Figs

Making Judy’s Panforte: Chopping The Figs

Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C)

Judy began by combining the sugar and honey as shown above, and setting the mixture to heat over a moderate flame. While you don’t have to watch it closely you do have to keep an eye on it because if it overheats it can catch fire.

While it was heating she stemmed and chopped the figs — not too finely — and put the pieces in a bowl.

Making Judy's Panforte: Adding Walnuts

Making Judy’s Panforte: Adding Walnuts

Judy next chopped the walnuts, again not too finely, and added them to the bowl too.

The bowl she used is a traditional mottled green-and-white glazed terracotta mixing bowl of the sort one finds in any Tuscan farmhouse, and it brings up a point: if your kitchen is cold, warm the bowl if it will absorb heat (plastic bowls won’t), because if you don’t the honey mixture will stick to the sides of the bowl rather than incorporate with the nuts.

Making Judy's Panforte: Adding Droghe, or Spices

Making Judy’s Panforte: Adding Droghe, or Spices

The next step is to add the droghe, which are not what one might think, but rather spices, which were once sold by the apothecary. The traditional mixture is fairly complex — one recipe for spezie fini calls for:

  • 50 grams coriander seeds
  • 10 grams cloves
  • 30 grams mace
  • 10 grams freshly grated nutmeg

All whirred to a powder in a spice grinder. Of this mixture you will then need 2 tablespoons.

Judy suggests as a substitute 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice mix.

Making Judy's Panforte: Adding Bitter Chocolate

Making Judy’s Panforte: Adding Bitter Chocolate

The next step is to add 2 heaping tablespoons bitter cocoa powder, which will provide flavor and also darken the panforte. You should also add the flour at this point.

Making Judy's Panforte: Mix Well

Making Judy’s Panforte: Mix Well

Making Judy's Panforte: Adding Syrup To Nut Mixture

Making Judy’s Panforte: Adding Syrup To Nut Mixture

By now the honey and sugar will be bubbling, and filling the kitchen with a wonderful aroma. Stir it into to the nut mixture, using a spatula lest you burn yourself (remember the bit about warming the bowl if need be).

Making Judy's Panforte: Mixing The Nut Mixture

Making Judy’s Panforte: Mixing The Nut Mixture

As soon as the syrup has cooled enough to be manageable, set the spatula aside and use your hands.

Making Judy's Panforte: Kneading nut Mixture

Making Judy’s Panforte: Kneading nut Mixture

Turn the nut mixture out onto your work surface and knead it briefly.

Making Judy's Panforte: Shaping Panforti

Making Judy’s Panforte: Shaping Panforti

The traditional shape for panforte in Siena is round. That’s what you’ll find in the pastry shops. However, a round panforte can only be cut into wedges. If you shape your panforte mixture into a rectangle, you’ll be able to cut it into bars when it emerges from the oven.

Tradition also dictates that panforte be cooked on wafers that are very similar to communion wafers but a little thinner. Finding wafers of this kind is not easy, so Judy simply shapes her panforte on oven parchment, and sets the shaped panforte on a baking sheet.

Into the preheated 360 F (180 C) oven for about a half hour — what you are doing is setting it — and then remove it. When it has cooled, dust it with powdered sugar and it’s done!

This recipe on a single page

Two more traditional recipes, Panforte Margherita and Panforte Nero

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Categories: Illustrated Recipes And More, Italian Cakes and Pies, Tuscan Cakes, Biscotti and Sweets

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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