One of my favorite things about the holiday season is permission to make Pan Forte, a traditional Italian (dessert.) Roughly translated it means “Strong Bread,” a reference to its dense texture and combination of spicy flavors. I discovered it at Sophia’s, a unique bakery café in Portland Maine founded by Stephen Lanzalotta (serious painter and artisan baker.) Sadly Sophia’s closed a couple of years ago, but you can get Stephen’s Sicilian Slab pizza and other goodies at Miccuci’s on India Street. The pizza and bread aren’t gluten-free, but there is enough other specialty food at this neighborhood Italian market to satisfy everyone in the group!
I’m gonna risk it and keep going:
- Check out Stephen’s terrific abstract paintings at: http://www.heronpointstudio.com/stephenlanzalotta.html
- Pan Forte is something I make as a gift for friends including excellent restauranteurs, Cheryl and Norine, founders of Café Always & Aurora Provisions, who now operate El Rayo; Cheryl could make it herself, but seems to like mine – the ultimate compliment!
Back to cake: this recipe uses candied citrus peel, which one can make, but I suggest you purchase. (Let’s not make this harder than it needs to be!) I love the diverse range of flavors, which combine to make a satisfying, unique, and special holiday treat. If the candied Citron, Orange, and Lemon peel screams “fruitcake” too loudly, substitute 1-3 of your favorite dried fruits (apricots, figs, raisins, prunes, pears, pineapple….)
Holiday Pan Forte
½ Cup honey
1/3 Cup sugar (2.5 oz.)
½ t. almond extract (optional)
1 ½ Cups toasted sliced or chopped almonds (8 oz.)
2/3 Cup toasted chopped hazelnuts (skins removed (5 oz.),
¾ Cup (4 oz.) Diced, candied Citron Peel
¾ Cup (4 oz.) Diced, candied Lemon Peel
¾ Cup (4 oz.) Diced, candied Orange Peel
1 ½ Cups other dried fruit – chopped (I used raisins and prunes last night.) (8 oz.)
1 Teaspoon fresh orange zest
1 Teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2/3 Cup Chestnut Flour (or GF Flour Mix) (3.5 oz.)
¼ cup good quality unsweetened cocoa (1 oz.)
1 ½ Teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ – 1 Teaspoon of finely ground pepper (fresh is best!)
½ Teaspoon ground allspice
½ Teaspoon salt
¼ Teaspoon baking powder
1/8 Teaspoon each of ground ginger, cloves, and cardamom
Powdered sugar for dusting the finished cake.
Oven: 325 F. 9” round Spring Form pan, greased and lined with parchment paper – also grease the parchment.
- Combine the honey and sugar in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a gently boil until the sugar is melted and the temperature reads 230F on a candy thermometer (“softball stage”). Remove from heat – cool while you mix the other ingredients.
- Combine the flour, cocoa, spices, and baking powder in a small bowl.
- Combine the nuts, fruit, and zest in a large sturdy mixing bowl.
- Add the dry ingredients to the fruit and nuts, stirring to coat.
- Stir the almond extract into the warm honey mixture and pour over the fruit/nuts. Blending it will require elbow grease and a little patience, but the workout will earn you an extra slice!
- Spoon the (dense, heavy) batter into the prepared pan and firmly pat down with damp or buttered fingers.
- Bake at 325 for 35 minutes.
- Let cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan, inverting the cake on to a flat plate. Dust with powdered sugar when cool.
This is delicious for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee, for dessert at lunch or dinner. It can also be served sliced with cheese, fresh fruit and a glass of Port. Pan Forte can last wrapped in plastic for a couple of weeks, but we find it’s usually gone in a few days.