Story of an ancient recipe: Panforte – How to Make it
History and legend of Panforte
In Siena there is a very famous recipe called Panforte. Its history is very ancient and it dates back to Middle Ages. In the XIII century it was known as Panpepato, referring to the abundance of pepper (pepato) and other spices. The legend tells that Panpepato was a gift brought to the nuns in the Abbey of Montecelso by servants and settlers.
The cake was so appreciated that it became a refined product and was appreciated among the aristocrats and the clergy on important occasions. Panforte was then made by spice sellers, but apart from the always present spices, they added ingredients like orange, melon, citrus and almonds. The interesting fact was that Panforte was thought to be a cure for many diseases, thanks to the spices in its dough.
A white cake for the Queen: Panforte Margherita
As pilgrims crossed the Via Francigena, Panforte also spread outside Siena. Its recipe remained unaltered until 1879, when Queen Margherita of Savoy visited the Tuscan city. In her honor, a spice seller changed the recipe and removed melon while adding a layer of vanilla-flavored sugar on top (instead of black pepper).
The white cake was gifted to the Queen, just like the original Panpepato was given to the Abbey, and the people of Siena started to call it Panforte Margherita. This white version has a soft consistency, a sweet flavor and an aftertaste of candied fruit and almond, with a hint of spice. It is still sold today!
In 2014, Sienese Panforte received the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) European designation of quality label: an important award given to the most traditional and typical foods.
Panforte: the traditional recipe
150 g white sugar
150 g acacia honey
150 g all-purpose flour
250 g almond, peeled
100 g candied pumpkin
100 g candid orange skin
50 g candied citron
2 teaspoons powdered cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, grinded
1/2 teaspoon cloves, grinded
A pinch of nutmeg, grated
Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder
A pinch of black pepper freshly grated
About 50 g of confectioner’s sugar
Line a round baking tray with removable bottom (22 cm/9inches diameter) with the host. Toast the almonds in the oven at 200°C/400°F for 5-6 minutes. Chop them roughly with a knife.
Mix only 1 teaspoon of cinnamon with all the spices except for cocoa powder. Add about half of the mixture to the almonds and keep aside the rest. Chop candied fruits in small dices. In a saucepan over low fire heat sugar and honey until they are liquid. You reach the right point of cooking when by picking a small amount of the mixture with a toothpick and passing it under cold water, a solid sphere forms. This process should take roughly 15 minutes. Turn off the fire and pour in the saucepan the almonds, the candied fruit and the flour, sieved. Mix quickly and pour the mixture in the baking tray, flattening with the back of a damp spoon. Add cocoa and 1 tablespoon of sugar to the spices and sprinkle everything over the surface using a sieve. Bake at 150°C/300°F for 30 minutes. Once cooled, remove from the baking tray and sprinkle with sugar.