22 December 2011

Holiday Baking: Chocolate Panforte

Wow--it's been a week of near constant cooking, cleaning and decorating and I'm still nowhere close to being done. Suddenly I really appreciate what my mom and aunts did/do every holiday to make it enjoyable for the rest of us! (The men of the family, other than a few of the younger guys--including my properly raised SO--don't concern themselves with "women's" work and spend holidays arguing about politics and watching sports. You know who you are...)

Anyway, the latest baking installment involves chocolate panforte, a type of fruitcake. Although, really there's not much fruit in it. This is a new recipe for me. I really wanted to make a traditional fruitcake but I was too disorganized to get it started in time. Alas. But this one could be made at the last minute plus, you know, chocolate, so it ended up being the chosen one. I have high hopes for it (I don't want to cut into it until tomorrow so how it turned out remains a mystery). Read on for the recipe and click on the photos to enlarge...

The usual suspects and the source of the recipe:

(By the way, every recipe these days involving chocolate has to include the caveat that you must use the best possible type of chocolate you can find. Like your cookies or whatever are going to be total crap if you don't empty the bank account on Ghirardelli 100% cacao (yes, it exists). I might be something of a purist when it comes to food but I'm not a snob and guess what? Baker's brand chocolate works and tastes just fine and comes in convenient one-ounce squares. Feel free to use whatever chocolate you like but don't feel like your recipe will be ruined if you don't go over the top.)

Can you really go wrong with chocolate, fruit & nuts soaking in brandy? (I also discovered that dried cherries are awesome!)

I'm not sure why I felt the need to include a shot of the prepared pan. Exciting! (PS: If you're sensing tinges of irony or sarcasm throughout this post it's because I just spent the last two days listening to Henry Rollins spoken word. I highly recommend it...)

Right after I took this picture I realized I'd screwed up and put in an extra scoop (1/3 cup) of sugar. Oops (must have been distracted by Rollins). I think I managed to get most of it out but this panforte may end up being a little on the sweet side:

Bubble, bubble...sugar and honey boiling up trouble...

And then we add the brandied mixture:


My pan was too big but the mixture didn't spread much so it came out to the right size in the end. All batters should be so cooperative:

Strange step: sifting a mixture of flour, cocoa powder, and cinnamon over top:

When it's baked it looks like this:

And apparently you're supposed to brush off the flour mixture that's left on top before serving. What was the point of adding it, then? Anyone? Bueller?

Chocolate Panforte

Makes one 9-inch cake

[My notes/changes in brackets]

4 ounces whole hazelnuts (3/4 cup) [according to my measuring cup 4 oz is more like 1/2 cup but I used 3/4 cup anyway.]
Soft butter, for pan
3 ounces dried cherries (1/2 cup) [again, should be just under 1/2 cup but I used the full amount]
2 tablespoons brandy
3 ounces best-quality [Baker's brand is fine] unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (3/4 cup)1 1/4 ounces best-quality [ditto] bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon best-quality cocoa powder

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a baking pan. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes [in my case fragrant meant burnt and burnt hazelnuts are horrible. Keep a close eye on them]. Rub warm nuts in a clean kitchen towel to remove skins [yeah, if there's an easy or thorough way to do this would someone let me know? Also, it would have helped if Martha mentioned it works best when the nuts have cooled]. Set aside.

Reduce oven heat to 300 degrees. Brush a 9-inch springform pan [I used 10-inch and the batter stayed in a 9 inch circle on its own] with soft butter, fit with circle of parchment, brush parchment with butter, and set aside.

Combine fruit, nuts, brandy, and chocolates in a medium bowl; set aside. Sift 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl.

Combine honey and sugar in a saucepan. Stirring, bring sugar to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer for 2 minutes. Combine with dried-fruit mixture, stirring until combined. Fold in flour; mix to combine. Pour into prepared pan.

With wet hands or a small metal spatula, press the mixture to form a level layer. Combine the remaining 1/2 tablespoon flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and cocoa. Sift over unbaked cake. Bake until set, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool. Gently brush off flour coating before serving [I'm still not sure what the point of this coating is but a pastry brush does a decent job of brushing it off].

Pictures by Domicile

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