Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert for Christmas. It's from Siena in Tuscany to be precise. Panforte contains fruits and nuts, and resembles fruitcake, only better! Trust me, this is NOT your grandma's fruitcake. My German friend Angela said it reminded her of a similar Christmas German dessert called Lebkuchen.
Panforte allegedly dates back to 13th century Siena. Documents from 1205 show that panforte was given to monks and nuns at a local monastery. It was tax or tithe due on the February 7th. At the time, the ingredients were expensive! This mediterranean dessert was a real treat. The poor did not use spices.
Literally translated, panforte means "strong bread." This is a reference to its rich and aromatic flavor. The predominant spices in panforte are nutmeg, cinnamon , coriander, and cloves. It also contains nuts lightly toasted hazelnuts and almonds. Additional ingredients include dried fruits (apricots, cherries, orange peel, and sometimes figs). Orange rind gives the cake a nice hint of citrus, but not overpowering. The use of honey, made this a highly non-perishable dessert in the winter months.
Keeping panforte fresh.
Honey is a natural preservative and nature's antibacterial as well. The mixture is baked in a shallow pan. The cake is dusted with powdered sugar. The texture of panforte is slightly chewy, just so you know. I was surprised to find out through my readings that there is no set recipe for panforte; every pastry shop has their own version.
The city of Sienna was an important spice trading center during the Middle Ages. At one time, panforte had pepper. This is why its original name was panpeto which translates into peppered bread.
Legend says that panforte has 17 ingredients. Why, you might ask. Well, my research tells me that each ingredient represents a neighborhood in the city of Siena. It comes as no surprise that in Siena there 17 neighborhoods or Contrade! Each pastry shop has its own variation of ingredients.
Step by step photos
- Gather all your ingredients and have them chopped, measured and ready to go. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line and 8 inch cake pan with parchment paper in the bottom. I like to use a tart pan with a removable bottom and cut the parchment around the removable disc.
- Remove the skins from the hazelnuts and almonds by blanching in some boiling water with a 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Boil for 3-5 minutes and then drop them into an ice bath. Roast in the oven on a baking tray for about 10 minutes until lightly brown. Keep a close watch on them as they can burn and become very bitter. Chop them coarsely with a knife or food processor.
- Place the following ingredients in a large bowl: candied orange peel, apricots, cherries, orange zest. Mix these together and then add the flour, cocoa powder, coriander, nutmeg cinnamon and cloves. If you need instructions on how to make candied orange peel I have those included in my recipe for German lebkuchen with step by step photos.
- Heat a sauce pan on low and add the honey and sugar. Mix together until all the sugar is dissolved then turn up the heat to medium and bring to a boil.
- Add the nut mixture to the pan and stir continuously for about 5 minutes until it browns slightly.
- Add the sugar and nut mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients.
- Work quickly combining before it gets too stiff.
- Pour into your cake pan, level it out and bake for 1 hour. It will be quite gooey when it goes into the pan. Allow to cool completely and I like to slice my into ¼ inch slices. It is a bit chewy and slightly crunchy on the edges.
I adapted this recipe slightly from one I found in a book: Bake by Edward Gee.
The panforte will keep at room temperature for about one month if you seal it in an airtight container. You can refrigerate for 6 months and freeze for one year but be sure it is sealed to prevent it from drying out.
I like to slice mine very thin with a sharp knife. Make triangle slices about ¼ inch thick then plate them and dust with powdered sugar.
Panforte Recipe Card
Literally translated, panforte means “strong bread” a reference to its rich and aromatic flavor. Panforte is a traditional Christmas Italian dessert containing fruits and nuts, and resembles fruitcake. The predominant spices in panforte are nutmeg, cinnamon , coriander, and cloves. These spices combined with some dried fruit make a delicious dessert.
- ¾ cup hazelnuts skinless
- ¾ cup almonds
- ½ cup candied orange peel
- ⅓ cup dried apricots diced
- ⅓ cup cherries dried
- 1 rind of 1 orange (zest) grated
- ⅓ cup flour
- 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp coriander ground
- ¼ tsp nutmeg ground
- ¼ tsp cloves ground
- ½ cup sugar
- ¾ cup honey
- 1 tsp Powder sugar for dusting.
Preheat oven to 350°F and line an 8" round cake pan with parchment paper.
- Place almonds and hazelnuts on a parchment covered baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes.
Lower oven temperature to 300°F
- Using a food processor, chop nuts coarsely. Place in a large bowl and add the candied orange peel, apricots, cherries and orange rind.
Add the flour, cocoa powder, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Mix well.
- In a saucepan on low heat, mix sugar and honey until well dissolved. Allow to boil and cook for about 5 minutes. The mixture should begin to darken.
Add the nut mixture to the pan and mix thoroughly. Combine the sugar and nut mixture with the dry ingredients in the bowl. Work quickly before it gets stiff.
Carefully pour the mixture into the parchment covered cake pan and bake for about 1 hour.
- The cake should bubble and rise just a little bit.
- Allow to cool completely, about 4-6 hours and carefully invert onto a large round cake platter.
- Dust with powdered sugar and cut into triangles.
Originally published December 2014 and updated December 2021.