I’m getting a bad case of cabin fever at the moment. The snow is turning to hard packed ice and/or slush and is not much fun to walk on. We’re not getting out much. So I’ve turned to comfort cooking.
About a week ago, my favourite food blogger, David Lebovitz wrote about his take on that wonderfully decadent Italian treat, Panforte. Two days after that, Kalba’s blog dropped into my in-box. She’d been tweaking his recipe whilst hiding from the snow on her side of the Ariège. Today it was my turn- and here’s my tweaked recipe
- 40g unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting the tin
- 200g chopped toasted nuts- I used the hazelnuts I gathered with some friends early last Autumn, and the last of my walnuts
- 100g chopped dried prunes
- 110g flour
- 200g chopped candied orange peel
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground red chilli
- 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
- A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 85g dark chocolate, chopped
- 200g sugar
- 210g clear honey
Preheat the oven to 165ºC.
Line the bottom of a 22cm springform tin with parchment paper. Dust the inside, including the sides, with cocoa powder.
In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, dried fruit, nuts, flour, candied peel, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, mixed spice, and red chilli.
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir it into the nut mixture.
Gently heat the sugar and honey to 115ºC.
Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture and immediately stir it all well to mix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake the panforte for 30-35 minutes; the centre will feel soft, like just-baked custard, and if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done. Let it cool in the tin on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen it. Remove the springform carefully, let cool completely, and dust generously with icing sugar.
So why have I changed things? For my usual reason of being short of an ingredient or two of course. I’d run out of dried apricots. Well, what’s wrong with prunes then? No candied lemon peel? I used the last of the orange peel.
Entirely untypically, I decided I’d get in a muddle if I didn’t weigh out all the ingredients and put them neatly beside the mixing bowl in dinky little dishes ready for the off, in the manner of Delia Smith and TV cooks everywhere. We both weighed, chopped, melted things and mixed. The panforte safely in the oven, we started tidying up, and then I found….the dish of cocoa powder.
Unlike those TV chefs, I whipped the panforte out of the oven, dumped the mixture in a bowl with the cocoa, mixed it up, and shoved it back in the tin, and then into the oven again. I think I got away with it…..
The thing is, Malcolm’s always said he doesn’t care for panforte. That’s why I made him a treat of his own this morning. But this afternoon, we both squabbled over who could lick the scrapings from the bottom of the panforte bowl. He liked it. We both more than liked it.
We can’t try the finished article yet though. Several days waiting time for the flavours to marry together is recommended. We’ll have to do our best to ignore the box sitting in the pantry.
So what did I make for Malcolm? Well, tidying up my recipe collection, I found Dan Lepard’s recipe for Sesame Ginger Halva. Like the Panforte, it’s perfect with a shot of strong black coffee. Unlike the panforte, you can eat it immediately, and it’s a comforting pick-me-up on a snowy day.
- 250g tahini
- 100g stem ginger, strained from its syrup
- 200g caster sugar
- 50ml water
- 50g of the syrup
Spoon the tahini and the oil separated from it into a bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until it is smooth and emulsified.
Chop the ginger into ½cm cubes. Line the base of a 2lb loaf tin or similar with a buttered sheet of foil.
Place the sugar, water and 50g syrup from the stem ginger in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until a drop of the toffee hardens when popped into a glass of cold water, and can be squeezed with the fingers into a soft ball. This step’s tricky. Because there’s so little syrup, the heat increases rapidly. Just do your best: if it gets too hot, the halva will be crumbly rather than creamy, but who cares?
Next, add the ginger cubes and remove from the heat and add the tahini. Beat until the mixture thickens, then tip into the foil-lined tin. Cut into squares when warm.
Just one tip, while you’re reading this: do as the spellchecker does, and substitute ‘pianoforte’ for ‘panforte’ every time the word occurs. It makes for interesting reading