Most of my adult life I've been an explorer of sorts, almost always ready to try something new, to learn a new skill, read a new book, look at something in a new way. Success has not always followed, but I learn from my mistakes, too, so they are valuable in their own way.
For the last half year or so the impetus to try new things has hibernated while I worked on getting a handle on what I really want...probably easy for some people but lately a struggle for me. Not too surprisingly to those who know us, top of the list of what I really want is to be with Sweetie. Since I turned into a bit of a shrew during the bathroom project it's good to know that he still feels the same way and he is happy that I've returned to being the loving and mostly reasonable woman who was hard to find during the summer and fall. The optimistic office worker has also resurfaced perhaps because there are new tasks to master and a change of venue coming up.
So 'what does all this have to do with food blogging?' you ask...it means I'm back to looking for the enjoyment of challenges in the kitchen...and my first High Five entry in quite a while. As you may or may not remember, Lynn, known in the blogosphere as Cookie Baker Lynn, challenged us last winter to stretch ourselves in the kitchen, blog about it and then let her know our High Five accomplishment. The idea was to do one a month. Hahahahahaha. Great idea, but hasn't happened.
My High Five this time is for baking Pan Forte di Siena, a sort of Tuscan fruitcake with a honey base. I've seen it at the specialty stores for an absurd amount of money for a small wedge and was sure that I could make it myself. Still, there is an awful lot of costly ingredients in this 'strong bread' so I was a little nervous about making it...it IS very different from anything I've made before.
For starters I scoured the Internet for recipes, looked at suggested techniques and proportions, then put together my own recipe with what I like and had on hand. The basic unit of measurement for my version is 3/4 cup. The toasted nuts add up to a double of 3/4 cup. The dried fruit is the same. The dry ingredients combined equals 3/4 cup and you use 3/4 cup each of sugar and honey for the syrup that binds it all together.
This cake/bread uses no oil other than to butter the pan and parchment and it has no eggs either. The syrup is boiled to a soft ball stage in all the recipes I looked at and almost all baked it in a low oven for about 30 minutes. There is far more fruit and nuts than 'cake' in pan forte (and it has no resemblance to Aunt Hattie's fruitcake brick).
This pan forte is a thin cake filled with fruit, nuts and spices with a lovely honey-citrus note. A little goes a long way, so you can see why this was historically considered the Crusaders Power Bar. There are versions with figs and walnuts, too. If you have made candied orange peel you will probably want to increase the amount of orange peel and decrease the citron. Dates would work in this, too, and pine nuts would be great for some of the nuts. Just keep the 3/4 cup and 1 1/2 cup proportions.
Pan Forte is available year round now but used to be one of the treats of the Yuletide in Italy, especially in Sienna. This is not a difficult recipe, although prepping the dried fruit and roasting the nuts takes some time. Sweetie and Straight Shooter assure me that it was well worth the time. Try it yourself and you, too, can have a High Five from Lynn!
Pan Forte di Siena
1 ½ cups toasted nut…mix of whole almonds and slivered almonds and chopped hazelnuts
½ cup diced citron
½ cup diced apricots & ½ cup diced dried cherries
2 tablespoons diced candied orange peel
zest of 1 lemon and zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon each: cloves, nutmeg, cardamom
pinch of pepper
½ cup flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup honey
2-3 tablespoons almond meal or ground almonds
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 9” springform pan, line bottom with parchment paper, butter that, sprinkle on the almond meal or ground almonds evenly & set pan aside.
In a bowl mix together the nuts, citron, apricots, candied peel, citrus zest, spices, flour and cocoa.
In a heavy pot stir together the sugar and honey. Over low heat, stirring constantly, melt the honey and sugar together. Increase heat to medium high. Stop stirring and let cook until mixture reaches 245 degrees F (soft ball stage), using a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pot to keep crystals from forming. When soft ball stage is reached remove pan from heat and pour mixture into dry ingredients, stir it all together quickly to combine all ingredients. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and using slightly wet hands smooth the top. Work quickly as mixture hardens fast.
Bake in preheated oven for ½ hour - 35 minutes with pan set on rimmed cookie sheet.
Set on a rack to cool. When cool remove from pan, invert and remove the parchment paper. Invert again and sift liberally with confectioners’ sugar. Serve in small slices. To store wrap twice in plastic wrap and then in foil and store at room temperature.