Chocolate Hazelnut Panforte
The time has come to share our family recipe for panforte. My mom has been making panforte (and a very boozy, buttery nut cake) every Christmas for as long as I can remember. (I don’t think she even knows where she got the recipe.) This stuff can be like crack for the right person. I started making it too, sometime in college, and every year we like to compare: Whose has a better texture? Did the home-dried fruit make any difference? What about the super lush chocolate? I’ve come to love a really gummy panforte. My mom likes dense, clean slices.
What is panforte? First, it’s not panettone. Although they are both holiday sweets that feature orange rind and dried fruit, in every other way, they are opposites. One is big, fluffy, cakey, shaped like a silly chef’s hat. The other – when made with cocoa powder – is compact, intense, dense, deep brown like a cow patty, and best once you’ve aged it a long time. It features roasted nuts, dried fruit, a lot of spices, citrus rind and cocoa powder, held together in a sugar-honey-butter candy. (Many people make a white panforte without the chocolate. It’s not for me. It doesn’t taste as complex and decadent.)
I guess I’m presenting this recipe as a little bit of a challenge. For a long time I felt covetous and would very reluctantly share the recipe, but in my experience, even when you give someone the recipe after they claim to have eaten the entire slice you sent them in one sitting (in this case, supposedly, during a bath), or their mom ate the whole thing compulsively without sharing a bite, they still may not make it themselves. All those dried fruits and nuts are expensive! And it does take some elbow grease. But I also think for those very reasons, because it’s such a once-a-year, I-always-burn-myself-and-now-I’m-broke kind of thing, people know that when you give it to them, you love them. So here it is! And thank you, mom.
Makes 2 cakes / 16 wedges
Two 8” cake pans
Two baking sheets
Sturdy saucepan (2 quart or larger)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
1 cup whole almonds (unblanched)
1 1/2 cups dried Calimyrna figs
1 1/2 cups chopped dried apricots
1 cup mixed other dried fruit
2 Tbsp orange zest
2 Tbsp lemon zest
3/4 cup all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (plus extra for dusting)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 scant tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 scant tsp freshly ground coriander
1/4 tsp cloves
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp honey
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt butter in a pretty sturdy pot (I use a two-quart stainless steal saucepan). Lay cake pans on parchment paper and trace the outlines of the bottoms with a pen. Cut out those circles. Brush the bottom and sides of the cake pans with butter. Place the parchment in the bottom of each and brush it with butter as well. Set cake pans aside. Reserve remaining butter.
2. Place hazelnuts on one cookie sheet and almonds on another. Roast in the over - about 10 minutes for the almonds and 15 for the hazelnuts. Cool. Gather the hazelnuts in a dish towel and tub to remove the husks as well as you can (no need to get anal). Put nuts in a large bowl.
3. REDUCE THE OVEN TEMP TO 300 DEGREES. (I once failed to do this and I burned them to a crisp and sat and wept because it was pretty much the same thing as lighting my money on fire.)
4. Leave the figs whole (cutting off the hard little wooden bit at the narrow top, if its there) and add them to the bowl with the nuts. Dice the dried apricots and any other dried fruit you have that’s somewhat large. Add to the nut bowl. Toss everything together.
5. Combine the orange zest, lemon zest, flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmet, coriander and cloves in a medium bowl. Add to the nut bowl and mix until all the fruit and nuts are thoroughly coated.
6. Add the sugar and honey to the butter saucepan and return to heat. Stirring frequently (especially towards the end) bring mixture to 248 degrees - or the “firm ball stage.” (Errr.) Immediately, IMMEDIATELY, pour over the fruit-nut mixture and stir as rapidly as you can. (Best if there are two people at this point.) You want to thoroughly coat all the fruit and nuts in the hot candy, which will turn your spiced cocoa into a sludge. Act quickly, and as soon as it’s combined, beginning dumping the mixture into the two pans. The candy wants to harden, and will begin doing so just a little. Don’t worry. Once all the mixture has landed, ker-plop, in the pans, then push it down with the back of your spoon to spread it out to the edges. Doesn’t need to be perfect.
7. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. The edges will look dry, the center will feel a little gummy. Cool slightly on a drying rack, turn out on work surface, peel off parchment, and cool completely.
8. Place panforte on a baking sheet. Melt chocolate in a double burner over simmering water until just smooth. Pour over the cakes and spread to the edges. (Note: these photos were taken before we’ve poured the chocolate.) Let cool completely. Take cocoa powder and dust (I use a sieve) over the top to enhance the really nice contrasting bitterness that the chocolate provides. Cut each into 8 wedges, wrap in plastic wrap, and let age for a month (to forever). Give away to the best people you know.
This is my adaptation. I don’t know the source of this particular recipe, but if you do, please let me know!