October 2, 2012

Other People's Recipes: Lemon Cocoa Panforte

Although the poll I posted in last week's blog doesn't close until the 10th, one thing is clear.  Mary Engelbreit's 'Tis the Season Holiday Cookbook is dominating the competition for what "Other People's Recipes" should focus on next.  Rather than wait for the poll to close, I thought I'd dive right in and start exploring.  This is a wonderful looking cookbook, with great pictures and intricate art throughout, but I haven't really used it for cooking in the two years since my Mother-in-Law gave it to me.  Wife made the Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Torte during a mock "Iron Chef" battle we had with the kids, but until now that was it.
Wife didn't do the baking this time, but as soon as I told her I was going to be blogging from this book, she asked if she could pick the first recipe.  After considering a variety of "safe" items, she finally settled on something I'd never heard of.  Panforte.  (A lemon cocoa panforte, to be exact.)  Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert that involves baking fruits, spices, and nuts in a syrup of honey and sugar.  According to Wikipedia, panforte was even paid as a tithe to Italian monks.  Would I accept a slice of panforte as payment?  Only time would tell.

Before I could even start baking, I had prep work to do.  Day ahead-type prep work.  One of the ingredients in this dish is candied lemon peel, which wasn't available at my local grocery store, so I had to make it myself.  This is how:

Just big enough that they won't fall through the rack. 
First, remove the peel from 4-5 small (or 3 large) lemons, discarding the top and bottom bits.  Slice into thin slices and place them into boiling water for fifteen minutes.  When they are done, rinse them and set them aside.  Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and add 4 cups of sugar.  Once the sugar has dissolved, add the boiled lemon peels and simmer in the sugar syrup for forty minutes.

When they are ready to come out, remove them to a wire rack and dust with more sugar, then leave them to dry overnight.
If you flip them, you can dust both sides and have a better result.
At the same time as I was candying lemon peels, I went ahead and toasted the slivered almonds I'd picked up from the store and chopped some of the other ingredients as well.  Since the lemon caused a day's delay in baking--and therefore blogging--I wanted the cooking to be as painless as possible.
Be sure not to burn the almonds or the panforte will be bitter.
So, when your lemon peels are ready, this is what you need to do to make the actual panforte.  Preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and butter a 9' spring form pan.  Then place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, and butter that as well.  This will help ensure that this rather sticky confection comes loose when you are done.  (Note:  Depending on how you feel about honey, this recipe is practically vegan--cooking spray would be a nice alternative if you are trying to limit any and all dairy intake.)

Then, in a medium-to-large bowl, combine the following ingredients:  1 1/2 cups of toasted slivered almonds, 1 1/2 cups chopped & stemmed dried figs, 1/2 a cup of (1/4 inch) diced candied lemon peel, 1/2 cup of candied ginger (diced the same,) 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 teaspoon of coriander, 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, and 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon.
It doesn't look like much, but it smells great.
This mixture smells so good!  I love cinnamon, and I was really tempted to put more in, but I felt that it was important to try and follow the recipes in this cookbook a bit more exactly than I do the random soups I pull from the internet.  This was also my first time using coriander (which is actually the ground seeds of cilantro,) and I was really impressed.  It reminded me of a pungent cumin-cinnamon hybrid, walking the fine line between sweet and savory.

For some reason, my inner child loved seeing boiling honey.
Once you have mixed all the dry ingredients, combine 2/3 of a cup of sugar and 2/3 of a cup of honey in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves.  Then bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it reaches 245 degrees on a candy thermometer (or forms a firm ball when dropped into cold water.)  Once it reaches this point, add it to the dry ingredients and use the wooden spoon to mix it all together until their are no dry spots.  Or at least, that is what 'Tis the Season called for....I actually had a pretty hard time getting all the dry ingredients incorporated with the spoon, and switched to my hands halfway through.  This worked a TON better, although I still think (not just because the syrup was boiling) it is probably best to start with the spoon.  Once everything is combined, move it to the greased pan.  The cookbook suggests spreading the panforte out with a wet rubber spatula, but since my hands were already in the mix, I just did it manually, and I actually liked being able to press it into the corners.
Ready for the oven.
Once you have your panforte in pan, bake it for 50 minutes.  Since this "cake," for lack of a better word (except, I suppose, panforte) doesn't contain eggs, baking soda, or anything of the sort it will not rise.  When it is done cooking, cool it on a rack and then invert it and remove the parchment paper.  I didn't have powdered sugar (the recommended topping,) so I just cut it into thin slices and topped each of them with little twirls of leftover lemon peel.

Panforte was a bit more work than I usually put in for a weekday dessert, but it was a fun project that I imagine some of you will enjoy.  Wife didn't care for it--the fact that there are actual chunks of lemon peel and fig put her off, as did the bitter taste of unsweetened cocoa and almonds--but Boy and I really liked it.  If you can see yourself being put off by such textural issues, you could always pulse the diced ingredients in a food processor, but I thought it added a lot of character to the dessert.  The almonds were a plus for me--not too bitter at all--and the lemon and honey combined to make something truly unique.  Panforte isn't the sort of thing I can see myself making all the time, but it is definitely worth trying.  

1 comment:

  1. Figs, and Almonds, and Cinnamon – oh my! Yikes, what a good sounding dessert that I will never make. In heaven I’ll have a sous chef and a cleanup plan, but here on earth, such a system does not exist. Nevermind, I have a friend through whom I can live vicariously on his wonderful blog. I enjoyed going to: http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=panforte to hear the Italian pronunciation of the word panforte. That too is lovely, how could the dessert be less?