It seems we have a predilection for dried fruit and spices at this time of year. We’ve inherited a love of all things fruity from the English, whether it be Christmas cakes, fruit mince tarts or plum puddings. The Italians like to get in on the act too, turning out golden fruit-studded panettone and Siena’s rich, dark panforte, a toothsome jumble of dried and glacé fruit, nuts and spices bound with honey and a touch of flour. Similarly, panpepato is a specialty of both the region and the season, differing by the addition of chocolate and a generous quantity of ground black pepper. Both confections date back to the Middle Ages and today the artisanal producers jealously guard the recipes. The history of panforte and panpepato are intertwined and it’s difficult to distinguish which came first and what their true provenance is. Some claim panpepato was invented first and then the flavours were changed and refined in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy’s visit to the town in 1879. Thus panforte Margherita was born. Other sources state that panpepato derives from panforte and was created by Sister Berta when Siena was under siege. She had become so concerned for the health of the residents that she set about making a cake based on the original panforte recipe. Instead of fresh fruit, she packed the cake with dried fruit, honey and nuts and spiked it with spicy pepper. Our version uses black and pink peppercorns and we’ve given it a distinct citrus flavour with the addition of candied orange. Legend has it panpepato possessed powerful aphrodisiac qualities and also had the ability to stop husbands and wives from fighting, both of which are great reasons to whip up a batch yourself. And then there’s the chewy texture and spicy flavour to consider. Get cooking.
This Italian delicacy, a heady mixture of rich, dark cocoa and plenty of black pepper, will put some pep in your step.