CAPSULE REPORT: Sophia's Sweets, located outside of Houston, is an artisan bakery producing all-natural confections and chocolates, using many organic ingredients. For people on gluten-free diets, there’s a gluten-free version that is an exquisite dessert. All products are baked to order. The panforte is our first of Sophia’s Sweets, and we look forward to having more—of both the luscious panforte and the rest of the line.
Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert, born in 12th century Siena. A dense mixture of almonds and candied fruit, sweetened with honey and flavored with spices, it was originally called panpepato con miele, peppered (spiced) bread with honey, and was traditionally a Christmas bread* baked by nuns. It became panforte, strong bread, and traveled to other parts of Italy, where variations evolved. In the 1400s in Venice it was a custom to enjoy the classic panforte prepared in “the ancient Siena way” for important celebrations; in Genoa’s archives it is mentioned as one of the best known desserts of Italy.
*Those who aren’t familiar with Italian desserts may confuse panforte with another medieval Italian Christmas bread, panettone, which contains candied fruits and raisins. While panforte is short and dense, yeasty panettone is tall, dome-shaped and airy (although there is a less common, flat version of panettone).
Over the centuries many variations of the original recipe developed, as new ingredients became available. In the 1820s the Parenti bakery introduced a chocolate-laced variety; now the most popular varieties are Panforte Nero and Panforte Margherita. Panforte Nero, as its name implies, is dark: there is some chocolate, and it has an underlying bitter taste conferred by bitter almonds. It is preferred by connoisseurs. Panforte Margherita, shown in the photo at the right, is delicate, with a dusting of confectioners sugar. The recipe was developed in 1879 by a baker named Enrico Righi and presented to Queen Margherita, who came to see the Palio (the running of the bulls, a major Siena event) with King Umberto every year.† Today’s recipes are lighter and sweeter than the medieval originals, and are served year-round. Photo courtesy of Wineshop.it.
†The traditional Panforte Margherita is made of flour, sugar, honey, almonds, nutmeats, candied citron, candied orange peel and other candied fruit peel, cinnamon, allspice and coriander. Panforte Nero includes chocolate, almonds, pine nuts, candied citron, lemon rind, flour, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. Both use a crust of communion wafers.
Taking the license of many bakers before her to create a new version of panforte, Connie Rosenthal of Sophia’s Sweets has developed a super-fruity version. No candied citron or peel for her: she has given us panforte fruttissimo, a solid wall of dried fruits and crisp nuts. People who don’t like candied fruit, but who love dried fruit, will be truly thankful.
The Traditional Panforte is dense with figs, apricots, currants, plums, almonds and walnuts and spices, bound with a little organic honey and organic rice flour. It is gluten-free.
There’s also a Tropical Panforte with a slightly different mix of fruits: there are traditional figs, apricots and almonds, but then a departure into peaches, pineapple, mangos, macadamia nuts, candied ginger and spices, bound with the same organic honey and organic rice flour. The mango, pineapple and macadamia flavors spiced with candied ginger are pretty exciting. We served this panforte with ginger ice cream for a delightfully over-the-top experience. As rich as it was, almost everyone had seconds.
Although hardly a low-sugar one treat, panforte is a low-fat one (excluding the ice cream).
As you can see in the photo at the right, Sophia’s Sweets panforte is packed with goodness: it is so dense, there’s no room for air.
Panforte is complete on its own: rich with dimensions of clearly articulated flavors: each fruit and nut declares itself. As a snack, with coffee, or for brunch or tea, a plain slice is enough.
It also works beautifully on a cheese board: the dried fruits and nuts are natural companions to rich, creamy cheeses like brie and camembert, and other strong creamy cheeses like blues.
But for a fancier dessert, you can call out the arsenal of garnishes:
Can you say dense? Panforte is packed. Shown above, Tropical Panforte.
Vanilla or chocolate ice cream
The loaf can also be cut into cubes (like chunks of cheese) and served in a petit-four fashion, either as nibbles or as additions to a dessert plate or cookie tray. Italians traditionally serve a slice with a glass of Vin Santo or other dessert wine.
While traditional Italian panfortes are round, Sophia’s Sweets panfortes are made in a loaf form. This makes it easier to slice, as well as to package in a silver gift tin, which serves as an airtight storage unit and kept our panforte fresh for more than 8 weeks (at which time the last bite was gone); although panforte freezes well.
We can’t wait to have another panforte...and to give them as gifts.
Traditional Panforte: Gluten Free
Gift Tin 1 pound 14 ounces
1 pound 14 ounces $34.00