Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Christmas is coming - Panforte di Siena

I love Christmas food and especially baking, however it can be a bit tedious for gluten free eaters unless you have a bit of time to plan in advance.  I normally become a bit obsessed in the weeks leading up to the holidays, baking to fill the house with aromatic spices & delicious snacks to ensure that there are enough tasty bites for us all to share. 
This year I am starting a bit early with the baking as I'll be putting my feet up in hospital just before Christmas (the lengths some people go to for a rest!), so I am already thinking about my favourite snacks and squirrel-like, I'm making and storing some away.  Parmesan crisps and Union Bar nuts are an absolute must in our house.  I've started making a version of the nuts using fennel & lemon zest as well, which taste just great with a G&T. 
Usually, I make traditional gluten free Christmas cakes but this year my diet restrictions have put this recipe out of reach. Trying to find a cake which was egg free and contained no added fat seemed like an impossible task, but I was wrong, thank you to the Italians!
Panforte di Siena packs a spicy punch wrapped up in sticky rich fruit and nuttiness - now isn't that the perfect festive combination?  Lots of the recipes I found had a lot more sugar and honey, but this has a base of dried figs instead which are both naturally sweet and perfectly festive.  If you can, use whole pieces of peel and cut them into rough chunks about 1cm square, this will give a more interesting texture and gives a rustic look to the cake.  To make your own candied peel, you can use this recipe from the L.A Times, it is very easy to do and the results will lift this cake to another level. If I was going to the trouble of making my own peel, I would definitely use fresh spices, lightly toasted and fragrant, freshly ground.

The recipe may look really long, but it is very straightforward and, dare I say it, easy?!  I have baked a couple of test runs to make sure I get the fruit and spicing combination right.  The first attempt was definitely too peppery, though not too peppery to eat, of course!  I think this recipe has a good balance of flavours, it certainly works for my tastes and I hope you like it too.

Panforte di Siena
This is lovely served at the end of a meal, either with cheese or with coffee (or both!).

  • 100g blanched almonds
  • 100g hazelnuts, unskinned
  • 240g dried figs, chopped (you could substitute dates, prunes or a mix of all 3, instead)
  • 75ml water
  • 50g honey
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp crushed cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 70g whole glace cherries
  • 70g organic apricots, chopped
  • 70g candied orange peel, chopped
  • 40g candied lemon / citron, chopped
  • 60g rice flour
  • 30ml pommeau or vin santo, or moscatel
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced.
  • 2-3 sheets rice paper
  • clean tea towel and a baking sheet
  • lots of icing sugar
  • 1 x 21cm square or 25cm round tin, lined with baking paper
  1. preheat the oven to 150°C
  2. on a baking sheet make 2 separate heaps, one of the hazelnuts, the other of almonds.  
  3. toast the nuts in the oven for 12 minutes.
  4. when they are done tip the hazelnuts onto the tea towel and wrap them up.  rub the nuts inside the tea towel, the friction should flake the skins off.  pick the nuts out and shake the dusty skins into the compost or bin.
  5. layer the rice paper over the baking paper in the base of the tin - this will form the base for the cake
  6. put the chopped figs in a medium sized sauce pan with the water (add more if required to just cover the fruit).
  7. measure out the spices and add them, with the honey & sugar to the pan
  8. heat the pan, stirring occassionally and cook for 10 minute until the water has been absorbed creating a soft and sticky paste
  9. take the pan off the heat
  10. add the fruits & orange zest and mix in thoroughly
  11. add the nuts, and do the same
  12. sieve the flour into the pan and stir to mix through
  13. pour on the orange juice and alcohol
  14. stir to mix
  15. spoon the mix into the tin and spread gently to create a thick even layer
  16. bake for 30-40 minutes 
  17. remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin
  18. to serve, dredge with icing sugar*
*If you are not serving this immediately, don't dust with the icing sugar instead wrap the cake in cling film before storing in an airtight box or tin.  Don't forget to the icing sugar before serving though.


  1. I made this for Christmas this year, and it is very good. It is intensely spiced, and has a wonderfully moist texture. Very festive, and fun to put together.

  2. Hi Sue G - really glad to hear you enjoyed the panforte, i am going to make another for New Year as I love the rich spicy flavours too!