In search of Christmas: Aussie ‘panforte’

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This is a keeper. After tasting four cakes this afternoon, the ‘panforte’ remains Mr Gander’s favourite. It tastes better on the second and third day, which also makes it an ideal part of a Christmas gift box.

At first glance, this Aussie take on the panforte looked like a rustic version of a showpiece white chocolate and macadamia tart (Gourmet Traveller).

If the GT tart was a person, it would be a immaculately coiffed woman looking like our governor general. Its filling contains freshly ground macadamia meal (like almond meal), macadamia chunks and white chocolate, topped with a thin glistening layer of dark quince paste. How glam is that?

By comparison, this ‘panforte’ draws you in only after the first bite. It’s that woman in the corner of the cafe, her honeyed voice washing over you and catching your attention. Then, you realise she has such a pair of fascinating laughing eyes.

To make this panforte, melt together honey and white chocolate, folded in flour, loads of dried fruit (ginger and pineapple) and whole macadamia nuts, and spices. In essence, it takes the idea of a panforte, and substitutes white chocolate for dark, and Australian fruits and nuts for Italian ones.

Melting white chocolate evenly is more difficult than dark chocolate. The honey and chocolate mixture heated up and mostly came together, but there were a couple of stubborn streaks of white chocolate that required a couple more minutes of folding and stirring.

When adding flour to the honey and chocolate mixture, the batter will become very stiff and it may look like there is too much flour. Keep folding the batter, however, and the remaining clumps of flour will disappear and the batter will become smoother. Then, as the honey cools down, the batter will harden, almost to a viscous dough-like consistency.

The recipe said to bake the ‘panforte’ at 160C for 50-60 minutes. During the last 20 minutes, the kitchen and lounge room filled with rich and sweet smells. There was the unmistaken note of leatherwood honey, but also undertones of spices and other good things.

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The taste? It is a mouthful of Christmas-scented caramelised and spiced honey. An hour-long cooking in a honey bath had just began to caramelise the white chocolate. And if you’ve tasted or read about David Lebovitz’s caramelised white chocolate, you’ll know this is no bad thing. No bad thing at all. The baking also toasted the macadamia nuts (so you don’t need to toast them first as the recipe says).

On the first day, the dried fruit and spices came through in bursts, an interesting contrast to the mellow white chocolate and macadamia. By the second day, most flavours had mellowed. The ginger and spices gave warmth and depth of flavour without trying to take centre stage. The honey’s distinctive sweetness still lingered in the mouth. 

And texture? The ‘panforte’ was very soft and a little bit ‘cakey’ just out of the oven (I could not help picking off the bits that had stuck to the foil, even though they burned my tongue), but hardened quickly as it cooled. By the next day, it had hardened some more and become chewy, much more like traditional panforte. It may continue to mature over time, but it’s unlikely to last more than a couple of days in our household.

Would I change anything? I would let the honey and white chocolate rest for longer after stirring, to give the air a chance to get out. This may result in a flatter, denser ‘panforte’ from the start.

Post-baking, I was on my way to a friend’s birthday drinks, and little squares of the ‘panforte’ in a glass dessert bowl made a good last-minute present.

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Stage 1: White chocolate, honey and macadamia ‘panforte’

The recipe was published in the January 2012 edition of ABC Delicious magazine, and is also available on Taste.com.au.

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups (310g) chopped white chocolate

3/4 cup (265g) honey

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped [I used a teaspoon of vanilla paste]

1 1/4 cups (185g) plain flour, sifted

1/4 cup (55g) glace ginger, finely chopped [I substituted 30g dried apricot and 30g finely grated fresh ginger]

1/4 cup (55g) glace pineapple, finely chopped

1/4 cup (50g) finely chopped candied orange peel [I used candied lime peel from another cake]

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/3 cups (200g) unsalted macadamias, toasted

Icing sugar, to dust

Method

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Line a 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper.

Place chocolate, honey and vanilla seeds in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), stirring until melted and smooth. Set aside.

Combine flour, glacé ginger and pineapple, orange peel, spices, nuts and a pinch of black pepper in a bowl. Stir in melted chocolate mixture until combined.

Pour into the cake pan and press down with the back of a spoon. Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden but soft to touch (cover loosely with foil if it is browning too quickly). Cool in pan, then turn out and dust with icing sugar, slice and serve.

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