During my family’s trip to Italy, we stayed in Siena for maybe a day to shop and sightsee. While we walked around, I noticed that in pretty much every shop display, there were these cute little cakes.
These short, candy-like cakes are a specialty of Siena called Panforte, and are usually eaten around Christmastime. Panforte is traditionally made with fruits, nuts, and spices, as well as a bit of cocoa powder to give it that appealing dark color. The closest thing I could compare it to would probably be fruitcake. It also contains a lot of honey, making the cake chewy and, well, ‘forte’, and is commonly topped with a coat of powdered sugar.
I wasn’t familiar with Panforte at the time, since my family isn’t from the Siena area. So unfortunately, this means that I don’t have a centuries-old family recipe that has been passed down for generations to share with you guys, but I can at least provide a little history.
Panforte has been around since the 13th century, but the recipe has gone through some significant changes over the years. It was originally called Panpepato, and was instead topped with a coat of black pepper, which is where the ‘pepato’ part of its name came from. The recipe was changed in 1879 when a special version of the cake was made for Queen Margherita of Savoy, called Panforte Margherita. This version was changed to be more palatable by cutting down on the spices and removing the black pepper topping entirely, replacing it with the powdered sugar. This version of the cake was probably easier to enjoy as a dessert because of its milder flavor, which why this is the version still sold to this day.
(Photos courtesy of http://cookdiary.net/panforte/)