A cross between fruitcake, candy, and honey cake, this is the Italian trifecta of desserts. Though panforte (pahn-FOR-teh) is often made in a circular pan and cut into wedges, I prefer to serve it as bars. You'll find that these taste better after they sit for a few days and the spices have had time to meld with the honey. Make this the new "fruitcake" for holiday gifts. It's much hipper and is delicious served with espresso or affogato, or alongside gelato.
- 2 (8-inch) squares rice paper
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup natural dark cocoa powder (preferably Valrhona)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (preferably Saigon, see note below)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup honey (preferably organic and local)
- 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup whole natural almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup (packed) coarsely chopped dried apricots
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (300 degrees F if using a convection oven). Generously grease the sides of an 8-inch square baking pan (preferably with Pam). Line the bottom with 1 piece of rice paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and ginger.
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil. Once the mixture is boiling, stop stirring and let cook until a candy thermometer registers 238 degrees F to 240 degrees F.
Slide the pan from the heat and add the flour mixture, hazelnuts, almonds, and apricots. Stir until well blended.
Working quickly, scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer. Top with the remaining piece of rice paper. Using an offset spatula, press firmly on the paper to make an even layer.
Bake for 28 to 30 minutes (21 to 22 minutes if using a convection oven), until the filling is bubbling slightly on the edges. It will still look soft and very wet, but it will set up as it cools. Transfer the baking pan to a wire rack and let cool completely (overnight is best).
To serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert onto a cutting board. Using a large knife, cut the panforte into 3 strips and cut each strip into 12 equal pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Notes: You can use any combination or type of dried fruit or nuts for this recipe. Dried figs, cherries, pistachios, cranberries, and pine nuts all make delicious panforte. Edible rice paper can be purchased online.
Saigon cinnamon contains the highest percentage of essential oil of all the varieties of ground cinnamon. It packs the most flavor, making this one the finest and most exotic of all cinnamon types.