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A Tuscan Christmas lunch – panforte, a spicy cake from Siena

“Among the dishes required by tradition there are quite a fews that can be missed or replaced, as the stuffed capon with a roast turkey or the black and white crostini with butter and anchovies crostini, but what in a Christmas lunch in Siena can not be replaced in no way is the Panforte “. Giovanni Righi Parenti, La Cucina Toscana

Giovanni Righi Parenti is my reference for Tuscan and especially Sienese cooking, perhaps even more than Artusi. Probably it is the fact that when I read his pages I recognize the accent of the chatter in Piazza del Campo, probably because you can find in his book recipes that are not actual recipes, but coded daily habit… In short, I trusted him and this year I will bring to our festive table an home made Panforte. This is the perfect ending to our Tuscan Christmas lunch with Cecchi Winery, isn’t it?


Panforte is a thick and dense cake of medieval origin. At first it was made by the monks in the monasteries and given as a symbolic gift in special occasions, then passed into the hands of the apothecaries: sugar, almonds, candied fruit and spices were ingredients as precious as gold, and like gold they were kept from these figures that were a cross between an alchemist and a pharmacist, in huge glass jars on dark wooden shelves… I like to imagine their shops just like Ollivander’s shop in Diagon Alley, for those who are fans of Harry Potter.

The spices are what make it unique, a Tuscan gingerbread. Its pungent and honeyed smell is for me the true scent of Christmas, along with that of almonds and orange peel of ricciarelli.

There are numerous recipes you can find to make panforte, more or less traditional, and the same Righi Parenti reports some of them. I took the short cut, and as in the case of cavallucci and ricciarelli I went to my usual shop in Poggibonsi, I patiently stood in line behind ladies in fur coat, young women and children with their eyes bewitched by all those sweets and when my turn to speak came I whispered the usual code phrase: I’d like a dose for panforte. A few minutes later I was driving home with a paper bag full of spices and other precious ingredients that filled my car with a distinct Christmas smell.

panforte panforte

As you can see making panforte is simple and the ingredients are quite a few and readily available. As in many traditional recipes the secret lays in the quality of the ingredients: crisp almonds that leave in your mouth a milky freshness and excellent candied fruit.

Do not trust those boxes of candied fruit that can be found around at supermarkets, with the longest list of incomprehensible ingredients and a very little fruit trace. For once, treat yourself to a few slices of perfectly candied orange and cedro peel, or if you want to be even more precise and philological, candied melon.

Panforte, a spicy Christmas cake from Siena

5 from 2 votes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Cake, Dessert
Cuisine Tuscan
Servings 8


  • 300 g of almonds
  • 100 g hazelnuts
  • 150 g candied orange peel
  • 150 g candied citron peel
  • 150 g flour
  • 10 g spices for panforte*
  • 150 g honey
  • 150 g +icing sugar
  • a sheet of thin rice paper
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  • Preheat oven to 180°C and toast the almonds and hazelnuts in the oven for about 15 minutes.
  • In a large bowl add the toasted almonds and hazelnuts, the flour, the finely chopped orange and citron candied peel and the spices. Stir to mix.
  • Line with the rice paper wafer a 18 cm round cake tin (preferably a springform tin, it will be much easier to remove the panforte once baked).
  • Melt in a small saucepan over low heat the honey and the icing sugar with 3 tablespoons of water. When they are completely melted and become a thick golden syrup, remove the pan from the heat.
  • Pour the syrup into the bowl with all the other ingredients and stir with a spoon to mix everything: it will be a very hard dough.
  • Scoop the dough into the cake tin lined with rice paper and smooth the surface with a spoon.
  • Dust the surface with icing sugar and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, then remove the panforte from the oven, let cool slightly and then remove from the baking tin. If you wait until completely cold the caramelized sugar will stick to the tin and give you hard times - as it happened to me. If it happens, slightly warm the tin and the panforte will come out with no problems.
  • Once the panforte is cold, dust generously with icing sugar.
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* Panforte spices. Every apothecary has his own secret mix, this is Giovanni Righi Parenti’s proportion: 5 g of coriander seeds, 3 g of macis, 1 g of cloves, 1 g of nutmeg.

So this was the final cake, but this is not a goodbye… I’ll be back to wish you everyone a special Christmas!

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This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. I so very much want to try your Panforte! I imagine it is so much better than the one from Nannini! Yours looks lovely and moist and I bet it’s so flavoursome. Together with an Earl Grey tea… perfect!
    Gorgeous pictures! x

  2. 5 stars
    Oh Giulia yours is so simple! The recipe I followed was so long! I will make yours soon, thank you for the lovely recipe and the memories of Siena it brings up!

  3. Giulia .
    One could find various recipes for Panforte but it would be nice if you list the exact spices you use.
    Thanks for your help.

    1. YO cna find the spices at the bottom of the post: 5 g of coriander seeds, 3 g of macis, 1 g of cloves, 1 g of nutmeg! 🙂 Let me know if you try it!

  4. This looks wonderful. I would like to begin now baking for several upcoming occasions. Can it be frozen?

    1. Actually you don’t need to freeze it, as it keeps well for weeks and months! just wrap it in waxed paper or aluminium foil… everyone will love you!

  5. Hi Giulia, is the rice paper you use the same kind as you can buy in Asian stores (and use for spring rolls)? Or should I use baking parchment cut to size?

      1. Thanks Giulia! I’ve had a look around & I now know what you mean… the paper is what’s called Oblaten in German, but it’s not really used here in Poland; I’ll have a look in the stores when I’m next in Austria. Meanwhile, I’ll just use parchment paper. BTW, can you eat the panforte straight away, or should it be left for some time to mature/soften? I know it can keep for a long time, but… does it have to ;)?

  6. Hi Guilia. I am just baking my 1st one now. I have turned oven to 150c as you dont say what temp to cook it at only to toast almonds at 180. It smells divine. Also the flour is that plain flour and not self raising flour? I am in Australia and thankfully managed to get ingredients online. Kind regards Michaela

    1. Hello Michaela, 180°C was also the temperature to bake the panforte. As for the flour, yes, it was plain flour.
      Hope it turned out great!

  7. Hello Juls – Just wanted to let you know I have now baked five of these for gifts now – delicious recipe!!! Thank you. Congratulations on your award also.

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