Panforte di Siena with Chocolate and Rum Raisins

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As I type this I am still munching on more of this goodness that i baked about two weeks ago now. This Holiday pastry is a “bread” in as much as “short bread” is bread. It’s a delicious, nutty, spicy and chewy candy almost more reminiscent of Spanish turron than a bread or cookie. Whatever we call it, it is a wonderful and addictive Christmas time treat. It’s origin is Italian, more specifically from Tuscany and the town of Siena. It’s even usually referred to as Panforte di Siena or “strong bread of Siena”.

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As the name indicates this one is a strongly flavored preparation and is best served in thin wedges. So what’s in it this stuff? Nuts; plenty of them; dried fruit; usually including a lot of candied citrus peel; spices, sugar and honey. This recipe is courtesy of the always reliable David Lebovitz and it includes cocoa powder and dark chocolate as well.

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I opted for a combination of hazelnuts and almonds with the balance tilted more towards the hazelnuts. That was a very good choice because of the cocoa and chocolate in the recipe. The combination is a delicious classic. I toasted the hazelnuts and rubbed them in a kitchen towel while they are still warm to get rid of most of the skins.

RumRaisins

To the chopped up nuts, I added the spices (lots of cinnamon in this one, but again, it works great), chopped up candied citron, flour, a decent pinch of salt. I’m not sure why the recipe does not include salt but I think it makes sense to add it. I wanted to include some other dried fruit in the Panforte. I also figured some booze would be nice. So, I soaked about 50 gr of golden raisins in rum for a few hours and subbed those for 50 gr of the candied citron. The instruction to work the dry mixture well with your fingers is a good one. It ensures that the ingredients, especially the candied fruit, do not clump and stick together.

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Lastly, I made the syrup by heating up honey and sugar to 240 F and poured that along with melted dark chocolate on the dry ingredients. You really need a good stiff spatula or wooden spoon to mix the stuff. It is heavy and needs a strong arm to get everything incorporated. I put the mixture into a spring form pan that I had sprayed with non-stick spray and lined the bottom with a round piece of parchment.

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Since the mixture is very dark already, judging baking doneness is tricky. I went by the recipe instruction to judge it “…the center will feel soft, like just-baked custard; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done“. That took about 40 minutes in my oven. Once it is cooled, I sprinkled it with powdered sugar and sliced it with a heavy knife. It really is great with deep rich bittersweet and spice flavors all topped off with great crispy chewy nutty textures. We ate several wedges with hot cups of coffee and stored the rest for later snacking. Along with Alton Brown’s fruitcake and Michael Ruhlman’s Aged Eggnog (although I’ve tinkered with this one a touch), this will now be another Holiday must have. Cheers!

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“Kit Kat”, Chocolate Gelato, Peanut and Coconut

This dessert tasted great. The flavors worked perfectly. It had some very nice textures. If only that coconut foam cooperated, it would’ve looked as good as I had planned as well. At some point I wanted to also include a banana component in this dish but I did not have the proper ingredients, so no banana. I’ll have to do it over again sometime.

The Kit Kat portion is straight from Michel Richard’s book “Happy in the Kitchen“. It’s made from  a base of chocolate, peanut butter and corn flakes and a top half of chocolate mousse. After it thoroughly chills it is sliced into neat rectangles and dusted with cocoa. They look like Kit Kat bars but taste way way better. They taste fantastic on their own.

The gelato is chocolate with a bit of coffee flavor added in. I used Starbucks’ VIA instant coffee to get a nice coffee flavor without adding any liquid to the mix.  The peanut brittle is very easy to make. I caramelized about a cup of sugar and added in a tablespoon of butter and a cup of roasted peanuts. I spread the mixture on a Silpat until completely cooled and broke it up to pieces.

The coconut was supposed to be a stiff foam that will keep it’s shape on the plate. It’s made from coconut milk, sugar, milk and gelatin. Then it is refrigerated in an iSi canister and charged with NO2. Unfortunately it looks like I used too little gelatin. The foam dispensed nicely from the whipping cream canister but lost its nice shape within a few seconds and turned to a foamy puddle. It still tasted good and had a very good taste and foamy mouthfeel. Since the foam failed to keep its shape I tried to change the plating a bit on one of the servings, with some success. It shows promise but the portion looks too big and bulky.