For Christmas Eve dinner this year, I decided to end things with an easy, make-ahead dessert. Panforte is a traditional Italian sweetâ€”it means “strong bread”â€”that goes beautifully with an after-dinner cheese course and your unwinder of choice, or coffee. It’s not terribly sweet, and the spices add a warm finish to a heavy meal. It makes a large cake, which keeps well. Nice to have on hand for impromptu gatherings: simply slice, add cheese and/or chocolates, and you’ve got a great little treat to serve up. This recipe was adapted from an old issue of the late, great Gourmet magazine (oh, CondÃ© Nast, what were you thinking?).
1 heaping T cocoa powder
2/3 c flour
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/8 t cloves
1/4 t salt
1 c toasted whole almonds
1 c toasted whole hazelnuts (remove the skins by rubbing the warm nuts in a kitchen towel)
1 c pitted soft prunes, chopped
1 c dried soft figs, chopped
1/2 c dried apricots, chopped
1/2 c dates, chopped
zest from an orange
3/4 c sugar
2/3 c honey
1 T orange liqueur
1 T butter
additional cocoa powder for dusting
Preheat oven to 300F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment, using a separate strip for the sides. Butter the parchment, then dust with cocoa powder.
Combine cocoa, flour, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in nuts, fruit, and zest. Bring sugar, honey, and liqueur to boil over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 238-240F on a candy thermometer. Working quickly, pour honey mixture over nut mixture and stir until combined. Immediately spoon mixture into prepared pan. With dampened hands, press down to fully compact the mixture into the pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the edges have risen slightly and the surface has a dull, matte finish.
Cool in the pan, then remove sides and peel off paper. Once completely cooled, dust top, bottom, and sides with cocoa powder.
Store, wrapped in parchment and in a zip-top plastic bag, in the refrigerator for at least 1 week and up to 1 month before serving. Cut into narrow wedges to serve.