Thursday, 1 November 2012

Chocolate Cranberry Panforte

I thought I would try a different kind of fruitcake this year for Christmas, and decided to tackle a panforte. The name is misleading - it means strong bread, in Italian - because this is not bread nor cake, but really a kind of baked candy. Staggeringly rich, is what I'm saying. So cut it in very, very small pieces.

It's supposed to be quite hard once it cools. The aging period will soften it up, but it will still take some effort to slice I suspect.  Little nibbles from the bits that stuck to the parchment lead me to suspect that it will also be quite amazing.

It was quicker and easier to make than I expected, although it's important to have everything else finished and ready before you turn on the heat under the sugar and honey. After that you must work quickly to get it into the pan and into the oven. I made 2 batches; one pretty much as described below, and one that I divided up into 6 little pie pans. Those were done in about 30 minutes. I used wheat flour for the first batch, and rice flour for the second batch as they will be presents and I needed them to be wheat-free. They seemed to work just as well that way.

24 to 48 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Prepare the Spices:
5 tablespoons flour (wheat or rice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 pods green cardamom

1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Put the flour, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Crush the cardamom pod lightly, to allow removal of the green hulls. Grind the remaining cardamom seed with the anise, coriander and peppercorns. Add them to the flour along with lemon zest. Set aside.

Prepare the Fruit & Nuts:
2 cups nuts - hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, or a mix
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup light raisins
2/3 cup candied peel
1/4 cup preserved ginger

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and bake them for 10 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Time will depend on the type of nut. Check regularly. If you use almonds, they should be blanched first.

When the nuts are toasted, put them in a large mixing bowl and add the cranberries, raisins and candied peel. Chop the ginger coarsely and add it to the mixture. Toss the fruit and nuts with the flour and spices until evenly coated, breaking up any clumps.

Finish the Panforte:
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for buttering the pan
2 tablespoons rum
60 grams (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate

Line a 9" spring form pan with parchment paper, folding up the edges, and butter it thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Put the sugar and honey into a heavy-bottomed pot, and bring to boil. You can stir once or twice to be sure the sugar dissolves, at the beginning, but once it starts to really warm up stop stirring. Once one half of the surface is bubbling, set the timer for 2 minutes exactly. Watch it to be sure it doesn't boil over - reduce the heat if it is rising up too high. After 2 minutes, turn it off and stir in the butter, chocolate and rum. Keep stirring  until the chocolate (and butter, but it will go much faster) is completely melted.

Pour the hot mixture over the fruit and nuts, and stir well. Scrape quickly into the prepared pan with a spatula, and spread it out evenly. It will start to set quite fast, so you will need to do this before it gets too stiff to easily work.

Bake the panforte until it is bubbling gently all over the surface, about 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Wrap well and keep in a cool, dry, dark place for 2 weeks or more before serving.

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