Dating from the 12th century, “Panforte di Siena”, a cross between a fruitcake and candy, is probably one of the oldest and best-known Italian Christmas treats, and it can easily be made at home.
Called Panforte (pronounced pan FORE tay), which means “strong bread” in Italy, Siena cake is associated with a strong spicy flavour. Thin little wedges are served after dinner with a port, tea or coffee.
Siena cake is very chewy. But unlike the fruit cake that seems to get re-gifted, Siena cake is made with fruit, nuts, spices, a little flour and a boiled sugar and honey syrup; and then melted chocolate and cocoa are added, which gives the cake a confection-like texture that is universally enjoyed.
If you have a candy thermometer and a pastry brush, this recipe is a piece of cake. You already have the 8-inch round cake pan and most of the ingredients so give it a go, this is better than any fruitcake.
This recipe is one I tweaked from a link: http://cakeitaly.com/?p=84
SIENA CAKE serves 16
¾ cup (180ml) whole almonds, blanched
¾ cup (180ml) hazelnuts
1/3 cup (80ml) chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup (80ml) chopped candied pineapple
3 tablespoons (45ml) EACH, candied orange and lemon peel
2/3-cup (160ml) plain flour
2 tablespoons (30ml) unsweetened cocoa
11/2 teaspoons (7ml) ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon (2ml) ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon (1ml) ground coriander
2 ounces (60g) semisweet chocolate
½ cup (125ml) honey
1/3 cup (80ml) granulated sugar
Heat oven to 350F (180C). Place almonds and hazelnuts in two separate baking pans. Bake until brown; take out almonds after about 8 minutes and hazelnuts after about 12 minutes. Lower oven to 325F (160C). Let the nuts cool off and rub the hazelnuts to remove the skins.
Chop the almonds and hazelnuts coarsely.
Combine the nuts with the apricots, pineapple and orange and lemon peels in a large bowl.
Sift the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander together over the nut mixture and mix well.
Grease an 8-inch (20cm) round cake pan. Line the bottom with a circle of wax paper cut to fit. Also line the sides of the pan with strip of paper cut to fit. Grease paper.
Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Remove the pan and let cool to room temperature.
Put the honey and granulated sugar in a small heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat to dissolve sugar. Use a wet pastry brush to swipe the sides and dissolve sugar crystals.
Heat syrup to boiling and then reduce heat to low again. Now simmer, uncovered, until the syrup reads 240F (115C) on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Take off the heat.
Pour the syrup, and then the chocolate to the nut mixture. Now stir the mixture well.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread the top evenly. Bake 35 minutes.
Put cake pan on wire rack for 20 minutes.
Carefully remove the cake from the pan; remove the paper. Cool the cake completely on wire rack. Wrap the cake tightly in aluminum foil. Let the cake stand at least 24 hours before cutting.
To serve, sift powdered sugar over cake and slice into thin wedges.
Siena cake is over 800 years old. If it’s new to you ,try it soon.