I love this time of year.
I love the pervading feeling of ‘giddiness’ brought on by the oppressive summer humidity and the numerous festive drinking sessions.
I love the smell of fermenting stone fruit (a throw-back to my childhood) and the general excitement and anticipation leading up to Christmas day.
Most of all, I love the excuse to indulge in an overabundance of Christmas food – whether it be at work’s Chrissy morning tea, the end of year lunch with the girls or Christmas day itself (although, I usually come to regret that ‘overabundance’ of food after spending weeks valiantly ploughing my way through the Christmas leftovers. Seriously mum, does a Christmas lunch for six really require a 10 kilo leg of ham AND a turkey AND a chicken AND then every part of the cow being barbequed on Boxing day)?
That being said, I always carefully plan my Christmas cooking because, despite my fondness for the festive season, I’m certainly not immune to the ‘bah humbugs’ and cooking for Christmas always seems to descend into a stressful chaos – resulting in a lot of yuletide resentment!
Unfortunately, this year, I can feel a serious case of the ‘bah humbugs’ coming on. We are a week into December and I have next to nothing organised for Christmas. In fact, I am the complete opposite of being organised. Instead, I am moving house. Excellent.
On top of that, I have decided to forgo trotting out any of my tried and true yuletide dishes and instead I am having a burl at making a whole range of festive food stuffs I have never really attempted before (what can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment).
One Christmas treat I decided to try out for the first time this year was Italy’s famous Christmas cake, Panforte.
Although it shares similar ingredients with the ‘traditional’ British Christmas cake – such as dried fruit, nuts and sweet spices, Panforte is really more like a chewy, nutty candy.
To be honest, I was actually organised with this one. I tested and refined my recipe and I’m pretty happy with the results – decadent, dense, chewy and redolent with rich spices, such as cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon (even the one I burned to a cinder turned out to have the loveliest taste…if you were willing to overlook the slight, charry bitterness on the back palate).
Panforte is fairly easy to make and simple to adapt to your own tastes (for example, you can use any of your favourite dried fruits and nuts in place of the ones specified in this recipe).
The only slightly difficult part is the making of the sugar syrup and ensuring it is added to the rest of the ingredients quickly so that it doesn’t harden and clump together, which makes it difficult to spread into the pan (but even I managed this part of the recipe on multiple occasions…so it can’t be too difficult. Evidently, I was not as good at keeping an eye on how long the Panforte had been sitting in the oven. It’s called an oven timer you twit).
As usual, I have also endeavoured to offer up a recipe that is allergy friendly. This tasty Christmas treat is gluten, wheat, dairy, egg and soy free (and can easily be made grain free by swapping the small amount of rice flour for any non-grain flour, such as buckwheat). Though, obviously, it is not one to serve up to someone with nut allergies!
Anyway, it is definitely one to try out this Christmas. Enjoy!
Makes: About 24 slices
Timing: About 1 hour all up
Edible rice paper or baking paper for lining
1 cup whole blanched almonds
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
½ cup fine rice flour
½ cup good-quality cocoa
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 cup dried figs, roughly chopped
1 cup raisins or sultanas (even better if they have been soaked in a little brandy overnight)
½ cup glace apricots, roughly chopped (or cherries or pineapple; or even dried cranberries, if you prefer. Something with a little ‘sweetness’)
½ cup honey
¼ cup golden syrup
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chunky orange marmalade
100g coverture or good-quality dark chocolate
Icing sugar, for dusting
- Preheat your oven to 160C (fan-forced).
- Grease a 24cm square baking tin and line the base and sides with edible rice paper or baking paper.
- Place the almonds, walnuts and macadamia nuts on a tray and in the oven for about 5 minutes or until they are pale brown.
- Meanwhile, tip the rice flour, cocoa, spices and pepper into a large bowl and thoroughly whisk together.
- Add the figs, raisins/sultanas and glace fruit to the bowl and thoroughly combine so that the fruit is evenly spread throughout (and not clumped together).
- Remove the nuts from the oven, allow them to cool slightly, then add them to the bowl and stir through.
- Place the honey, golden syrup, caster sugar, brown sugar and marmalade into a heavy based saucepan over medium-high heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to the boil (or the ‘soft ball’ stage – 118C on a candy thermometer).
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sugar syrup will thicken up a little and become quite ‘foamy’.
- Working quickly, remove the syrup from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir through until combined.
- Immediately pour the syrup mixture evenly over the fruit and nut mixture and quickly mix them together with a large spoon until well combined. You will need to be speedy here as the syrup must be hot so that everything mixes together easily and doesn’t stiffen up and become difficult to handle.
- Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and use the back of a wet spoon to press it into the tin (if the mixture is cool enough, I usually wet my hands and use them to work the mixture into the corners of the tin and smooth out the top evenly).
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove the Panforte from the oven (it will appear soft when it first comes out. Don’t worry, it should firm up quite a bit as it cools). Allow to cool in the tin and turn out onto a chopping board. Remove the baking paper (if used – the rice paper can stay put as it is edible).
- To serve, cut into narrow wedges and dust the tops generously with icing sugar.
- Panforte is like other fruit cakes in that it stores really well. So you can squirrel it away for weeks in the cupboard (or the fridge is probably best in our warm climate) and cut off a sliver any time you require a little sweet treat.
Wine Match: Serve with a shot of espresso or a Christmasy glass of port or mulled wine.
Allergens: Contains nuts (lots of ‘em).
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