Panforte (or panpepato) di Siena (spicy, nutty, chocolatey cake)

I’ve made this a few times now to serve as dessert at dinner parties, and it’s always been well received! This is a dense, nutty, chewy, sweet bake somewhere between a cake, brownie and nougat. Honey is used instead of sugar and there is hardly any flour. A kick of black pepper and chilli cuts through the sweetness. You can play around with the spice mix (every time I make it it’s a bit different) and some of the dried fruit you put in it, depending on what you have to hand, or what you prefer. It’s an Italian cake literally meaning ‘strong bread’ and began life as a Christmas tradition, but is now served year round – of course, it tastes good any time! And goes just as well with a strong coffee or a glass of dessert wine.

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Serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 200g mixed nuts (I use walnuts, blanched almonds and hazelnuts, but you can use pistachios, cashews…) roughly chopped
  • 200g runny honey
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 30g butter
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 100g dried fruit (I use a combination of dried figs & sultanas, but dried cherries, dates & apricots would also work well)
  • 50g candied orange peel, diced
  • 50g plain flour
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli powder (optional)
  • Icing sugar to dust and a pinch of mixed pink and black peppercorns

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 170C. Line the base and generously grease a 20cm cake tin.

Cover your dried fruit with boiled water from the kettle and leave to soak for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, put the whole spices (cloves, coriander, peppercorns) in a pestle and mortar or grinder and bash into a fine-ish powder.

Place the butter, honey and lemon zest in a small saucepan and heat until all melted and liquid.

Break the dark chocolate into small pieces and place in a large mixing bowl with the chopped nuts, ground spices, the whole spices which you have ground up, the pinch of cayenne if using, and the diced candied peel.

Take your soaked fruit and chop any larger pieces up to a similar size as sultanas. Add these to the bowl as well.

Pour the molten butter and honey mixture into the bowl with the other ingredients and stir until the dark chocolate has all melted and coats the fruit and nuts. Stir in the flour.

Spoon this thick sticky mixture into your greased and lined cake tin and press down firmly, levelling the top.

Place into the centre of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is firm and a sharp knife comes out clean.

Leave to cool, then dust with icing sugar. Bash up the pink and black peppercorns and sprinkle over the top.

This is delicious served with salted caramel ice cream! Or crème fraiche if you feel like being slightly more virtuous…

This tastes even better the day after you make it, so try and bake it 24 hours ahead of serving if possible. If there’s any left it will keep in an airtight container for almost a week.

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