Traditional Panforte (Spicy Tuscan Christmas Cake)

December  8, 2016
4 Ratings
Photo by Emiko
  • Serves 16
Author Notes

This is a recipe for Sienese panforte, a rich, flat cake with medieval roots. It's made dense with whole nuts, fistfuls of spices, and candied fruit. It’s the perfect thing to allow yourself a sliver of in the late afternoon on a cold day when you need a pick me up and a zing of spices to flush your cheeks. It makes a great Christmas treat, both as a beautiful handmade gift and also served in a thin wedge at the end of a long meal. It also happens to be one of the easiest cakes in the world to make. It's traditionally made with a LOT of candied fruit—I strongly recommend if you like to make your own to use that, or to buy artisan candied fruit for this. Otherwise, you can try substituting a portion of the candied fruit for finely chopped dried figs for a nice alternative (thank you, Nigella, for this idea) when you can't get really good candied fruit. This cake lasts weeks. You can wrap slices in greaseproof paper, tie with string and hand them out as edible gifts too. This recipe is inspired by a very traditional panforte recipe from Paolo Petroni's cookbook, "Il Grande Libro della Vera Cucina Toscana." —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • 14 ounces (400 grams) whole candied canteloupe or citron, or dried figs (see note)
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) of chopped candied orange and candied lemon
  • 2 1/2 cups (325 grams) of peeled nuts (almonds are most traditional, you can use also walnuts and hazelnuts)
  • 1 1/4 cups (155 grams) of plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 3/4 cups (350 grams) of white granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • Bittersweet cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C and prepare a springform cake tin (diameter 10 inches/26 cm) by lining with greaseproof paper, or greasing well and dusting with cocoa powder (as the panforte is dark, it's less noticeable than flour for dusting).
  2. Chop the candied fruit into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the whole nuts, flour, followed by all the spices except for the cinnamon.
  3. Place the sugar in about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of water in a saucepan over low heat. Let it simmer until the sugar dissolves and thickens into a syrup without coloring (it should reach 240°F/115°C if you have a sugar thermometer). Pour the hot syrup into the bowl of candied fruit, nuts, flour, and spices and mix to combine well.
  4. Pour into the prepared cake tin (the panforte should be about 1 inch/2.5cm tall), sprinkle the cinnamon evenly all over the top and press the surface of the panforte down firmly with the palm of your hand (the cinnamon should help make it nonstick). Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the surface feels firm. Remove the panforte from its cake tin and allow to cool completely on a cake rack. It keeps very well, best if it is well-wrapped in greaseproof paper or in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dark place (not the fridge).

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • sydney
  • Brooke Brandow
    Brooke Brandow
  • Emiko
  • ktr

9 Reviews

sydney December 21, 2016
Just want to mention for interested cooks that I was really curious, so I tried both drying and candying my own fruit. Turns out it's much easier than I expected, and the nice thing is that you can control the ingredients. Commercial candied fruit can have sweeteners that I don't like (high-fructose corn syrup, etc); and commercial dried fruit can have preservatives I don't need (they add them for retail shelf-stability). I didn't use a dehydrator (just an oven) or fancy candying materials (just sugar and a good, deep pot.
ktr December 14, 2016
Are dried cantaloupe the same as candied?
Emiko December 14, 2016
No, they're quite different! Candied fruits are also known as glace fruit, where basically the fruit has been boiled in syrup until completely candied. Try looking for it in specialty food shops or Italian delis.
ktr December 14, 2016
Thank you. There are no specialty shops around here but I'll take a look online now that I know what I'm looking for.
Brooke B. December 13, 2016
Any comments on flours for gluten free?
Emiko December 14, 2016
I think you could easily use any gluten free flours for this; the flour works to hold everything together a little (otherwise you're looking at a bowl of chopped fruit and nuts floating in honey!) but as there's no rising or anything, I think it's quite forgiving.
mary-ellen December 12, 2016
Any source for good quality dried fruit?
Emiko December 14, 2016
I'm based in Italy, so I'm not sure of the best place to look for where you are for either good quality, rather soft dried figs or candied (glace) fruit -- the sort of thing you want is this (the candied figs would be delicious!):
ktr December 14, 2016
I have ordered dried fruit from, and