Panforte

Panforte. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times / November 20, 2008)

Panforte's name translates to "strong bread," but it is more confection than cake or bread, barely bound with flour and heavy with preserved fruit and honey that dissolve together as they cook. It's studded with toasted nuts and spiced with black pepper, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa.

Maybe it's because panforte is so often compared with fruitcake and confused with panettone — the raisin- and candied fruit-studded, brioche-like Italian bread — that we don't see enough of the traditional Tuscan cake during the holidays. So I make my own, ever since discovering a recipe that makes an exceptionally fantastic panforte. It is the best panforte I have tasted — that's not a boast but a testament to the recipe.

The recipe comes from the cookbook "Tartine" by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. Approached leisurely, it can take two days to make, and I like the journey of it. The gathering of the ingredients: pounds of pistachios and almonds, tiny currants, soft dates, fresh quince, oranges and lemons, along with a small pile of the spices, cocoa and citrus zest. (You'll have to grate 11/2 whole nutmegs.)

The quince get peeled, cored, sliced and cooked in sugar, the orange peel cut and blanched twice before candying. All the nuts are toasted. And then I get down to the business of making the actual panforte itself, mixing boiling, bubbling honey syrup with the fruit and spices before it goes into the oven and, finally cooled, dusted with powdered sugar.

Not cloying but warmly, deeply spicy, panforte is excellent with cheeses and sparkling wines or as dessert with tea. And a wedge of it wrapped in brown paper makes an excellent gift.

betty.hallock@latimes.com