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Traditional Panforte (Spicy Tuscan Christmas Cake)

Photo by Emiko
  • Serves
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

  • Test Kitchen-Approved


  • 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).

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