I have been working two very busy jobs this year and time has simply flown by. I cannot believe it will be Christmas in less than two weeks and I have barely started preparing. This Christmas will be the second without my dear papà and the family will be celebrating on Christmas Eve at my sister’s beach house. She has been working on a very special project leading up to Christmas – a photo story book of my mother’s life.
Mamma has no idea about the book, even though all her old photos have gone AWOL in the last few months as my sister has been borrowing them to secretly scan them. I went over last week to help out a bit. It was so exciting! There were photos I had never seen that my sister had copied from an aunt in Italy last year. The photo above is a new one for me – it is from 1954 and my parents are looking very cosy on the left hand side of the photo (the blonde lady is Lotte, a friend of theirs). Next along is my uncle. Livio, his wife Dina and my uncle Fide. They all look so young and handsome.
The book will span from the time my mother was very young, living in Veneto, through to her marriage, journey to Australia and birth of her children. The photo above is such a beautiful one of mamma, who was about 23 when it was taken, at a celebration in Australia. Her brother Fide is next to her in the centre of the photo. I can’t wait to see her surprise and joy when she opens her photographic present. I have made some panforte for the family to share with coffee whilst we open presents.
I posted this recipe* over a year ago whilst writing about Siena in Tuscany, which is where this sweet was first described back in the 13th century. It is a dense, spicy cake with nuts, candied fruit and cocoa. There are many variations and mine is quite spicy with a good dose of ginger and pepper thrown in. I keep the panforte bars wrapped in foil in the fridge. Not only does it taste best cold but you get cleaner slices with sections of nuts and fruit for serving. Make it several days in advance – even weeks – it improves with age and will last for months in the fridge. It also makes a lovely Christmas gift for family and friends.
PS. There is a photo of my parents looking very 1970s after the recipe
Panforte di Paola
1 cup almonds, blanched then roasted
1/2 cup hazelnuts, roasted and skin removed
1/2 cup candied figs, roughly chopped
1/4 cup glacé ginger, chopped
3 tablespoons candied orange peel, finely chopped
1/4 cup prunes, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup dried figs, chopped into small pieces
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
150g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, powdered
1/2 teaspoon cardamom, powdered
1 teaspoon ginger, powdered
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
Rice paper to line your baking tin
Butter for greasing the baking tin
22 cm cake tin (round or square)
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees. Butter the tin and place rice paper on the base (cut to fit the base). Roughly chop the nuts then place in a large bowl with the orange peel, candied figs, dried figs, prunes, cocoa powder, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, pepper, cardamom and flour. Mix until well combined.
Prepare a spatula and spoon by covering them in oil before doing the next step. Heat the honey and sugar on medium heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the temperature reaches 115 degrees on the candy thermometer. Working quickly, pour the molten sugars into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix with the spoon. The mixture will be quite dry to start with but after a few minutes as the molten sugars disperse, it become very thick and wet with the sugars. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and pat down with the oiled spatula so that the surface is flat.
Bake for 30-40 minutes at 150 degrees (depends on how firm you like it). The center might still be a bit soft when you take it out, but it will harden as it cools. Place on a wire rack and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the tin and dust thickly with icing sugar. Allow to cool completely before serving. Cut into thin wedges to serve with coffee or a good port or muscat.
Here is another photo from mamma’s photo book. It is taken in 1971 or 1972, on a Lloyd Triestino ship, the Marconi. My parents are living it up on the dance floor balancing an apple forehead to forehead. Aahhhh those were the things that you did in the 1970s!
*The old post with the panforte recipe and photos of Siena has been archived.