Panforte morbido

Friday 17 December 2010, 11.01am HKT


Updated 29 Sept 2011 (vendor status)

“In Italy, panforte is love; chocolate is just lust.”

Trouble in Hong Kong is going to like this: I wrote this especially for this blogger who takes a different take on this town.

* * *

Panforte (‘strongbread’) or panforte morbido (‘soft strongbread’) is a traditional Italian sweet made from compressed fruits and nuts, usually orange and lemon peels and almonds. It is like a hardened, durable version of fruitcake, but without the cake nonsense. The name is often mistranslated as ‘soft gingerbread’ — which it isn’t.

Panforte morbido is pronounced PAAN-four-tay MORE-bee-doh. In Cantonese, it sounds like 辦火記摸邊道 (‘baan fo kei morr been doh?’ : ‘pretend to be a waiter to touch where?’) — which, having spent some of my growing-up years in Italy, kind of describes Italians to a ‘T’ (or ‘I’ in this case).

Where it’s from

Panforte is the signature confection of Sienna (Siena), capital city of Siena province in north-central region of Tuscany (Toscana). Tuscany sits in the same area as the ancient Roman province of Etruria, a.k.a. Tyrrhenia, from whose people (the Etruscans) the greedy Romans hijacked the know-how to build straight, level, wear-resistant roads and idyllic tree-lined avenues. Florence (Firenze) is the regional capital of Tuscany.

Sienna gave us the name ‘sienna’ or ‘terra di Siena’ to the earthy reddish-brown colour, which is the colour of panforte. You’ll see why below.

(Click on images for a larger version: opens in a new browser tab/window)

This is a Florentine panforte.

Forno di Enzo, Firenze = Henry’s Oven, Florence

Panforte Morbido = Soft Strongbread

Antica Ricetta = Old Recipe

con mandorle intere selezionate = with select whole almonds

Specialita Toscana = Tuscan specialities

The thing is not big.

It’s only 6½ inches diameter × 1 inch thick (16 cm diameter × 2.5 cm).

About the size of your hand with spread-out fingers.

It weighs 350 grammes, or just under 12½ ounces.

About the same weight as a can of soda.

It’s never enough and you’ll fight over it.

Normally the icing is as white as the fallen snow, but this was a rogue.

Panforte is quite simple to make. All you need is dissolve sugar in honey, mix the fruits and nuts together with some flour, and jumble the lot up. Compress in a shallow pan and bake, and then dust with icing sugar. It’s got lots of sugar, but you won’t get a sugar buzz.

Like everything else in Italy, everyone has their own revision of the original recipe, so the preparation formula of any possible panforte you could buy is a jealously guarded trade or family secret.

(Don’t try to make one yourself in a subtropical country like Hong Kong. It’ll only go mouldy even before the baking stage.)

Personally, I prefer Florentine panforte over Siennese panforte, even though the Siennese invented panforte. Florentine panforte is harder, drier, the moisture is inside and less cakey (rather like me in a way). Siennese panforte is a bit soft and cakey for my liking (rather like Hong Kong menfolk). Your mileage may vary.

This is a Florentine panforte in the pictures here. Usually, the Siennese panforte is smaller (roughly 250 grammes or 8¾ ounces) and priced higher (around HK$120) — mainly because of snob-appeal marketing-spiel.

How to eat it

It’s a sweet (i.e. dessert, confection, after-meal ‘thing’). Newfags have never heard of panforte, so they don’t count. Oldfags like me eat panforte at any time of the day or night with coffee (“black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love” as the Turks say) or a dessert wine after a meal. (You figure out which dessert wine to get.) Dorks and irrelephants eat panettone.

FYI, I’m a renegade Eurofag pagan, so I have highly Europeanised renegade cultural tastes in food: I often have panforte with Heering Cherry Liquer, taken neat. (Wimps use Heering’s on mixed drinks: what a waste.)

Really loopy oldfags (like grandpa) mix and match panforte with the über-heroic Kirschwasser — a colourless, odourless, double-distilled cherry brandy that looks amazingly like water, otherwise known as mediaeval Teutonic jet fuel, and can burn your guts out right through. Wunderbar.

(Grandpa’s way isn’t strictly correct etiquette, but if you’re into drinking highly flammable liquid accelerants, then panforte would make an excellent fire retardant for your stomach, before the fire reaches up the heart and brain.)

It contains 18% almonds, but you’ll swear it’s more like 81%.

Please don’t embarrass the rest of us by doing those snobbish but uncultured nooby ‘practices’ that overeducated sociologists and California-inspired sommeliers love to home in on: eat a finely tuned confection but with a drink that dilutes the hell out of the taste (like a dry wine). Mama mia! Abbiamo animali al tavolo!

And the rest of us don’t need the stress and tension of seeing you order a cappuccino or espresso or whatever the hell couture coffeeshops make these days to go with your panforte. Straight white coffee with panettone, straight black coffee with panforte. Like chess: it’s the straight moves that win most.

Memory aid: panetonne is lighter, so lighter coffee; panforte is darker, so darker coffee.

The whole imperial Roman (and therefore Italian) experience is to be overwhelmed and die in an orgy of taste. Strong food, strong drink, strong dessert. The descendants of Roman gods are not wimps, my friend.

Taste panforte, and you’ll never even want to stand next to the Milanese or Maltese panettone (even if panettone is a Christmas dinner staple).

Who eats (and who shouldn’t)

OK for:

  • you and me
  • old people, young people, normal people
  • good people, bad people, evil people
  • non-supertasters
  • people with teeth, or permanent false teeth
  • sugary people
  • salty people
  • people who are burning up from hot spicy food
  • people who hate cake (gateau)
  • people who hate squishy food (like yours truly here)

No good for:

  • Diabetics (sucrose, fructose, honey, other sugars)
  • Coeliac disease sufferers (wheat flour)
  • Gluten-allergic/intolerant people (wheat flour)
  • Nut-allergic people (almonds)
  • Supertasters (those oversensitive to taste: fussy eaters in general)
  • Brain-damaged conformists: stick to your panettone

Having said that, I’m gluten-intolerant after long living in Hong Kong, but I have never, ever had a problem eating this. Explain that one away, doctors.

Nerd details

Declared ingredients: candied orange peel, wheat flour, almonds (18%), candied lemon peel, candied citron, honey, spices, starch wafer, flavourings.

Dimensions: 6½ inches diameter × 1 inch thick (16 cm diameter × 2.5 cm).

Weight: 350 grammes (just under 12½ ounces)

Energy: 392 kilocalories (Calories) per 100 g (i.e. 1372 kCal for whole thing)

Where to buy

“Forno di Enzo Panforte Morbido,” 350 g, price HK$95.

Saporito Delicatessen
Ground Floor
Sports Mansion
161 Wong Nai Chung Road
Happy Valley
Hong Kong

Telephones (+852) 2895-4133 and 2895-1533

Open every day 10am – 9pm

Nearest MTR: Causeway Bay

1. The shop is on the road going into Happy Valley (it’s the only road). It’s about 100 yards/metres in. Like all good Italian shops, it’s roughly next to a filthy sitting-out area with filthy plants and filthy ground.

2. The panforte is on top of the charcuterie counter in a little rattan basket with no price indication. (You do know what charcuterie means, no?)

3. After purchase, shop assistants will ask for your name and phone number on their backup receipt for some sort of lucky draw. Do. Write them your email as well.

Update 20 Sept 2011:
Major disappointment. I discovered the shop has gone out of business since around late August 2011. A firm of estate agents now occupy the spot. Bollocks.

Text and images © The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2010, 2011, 2013.

Updated 20 Sept 2011 with status of vendor.
Updated 03 Feb 2013 with extra tag.

6 Responses to “Panforte morbido”

  1. Great blog mate! I have spent my life in the kitchen and many of them in Italian kitchens where panforte is a staple. Tuscan food is the greatest! Every year, when I have worked for Italians, they have given me a pannetone for christmas- it makes good bread and butter pudding but otherwise is totally un-palletable. I like the high-octane cherry brandy with mine- but I am a bit of a traditional foodie. Oh- for those who were wondering, charcuterie is French for the small cuts of pork and covers all of the pates, terrines and cured meats in a full French kitchen. Cheers!

    Like

    • I knew you knew about panforte! Clearly a man of good taste and culture! Yup, I love Tuscan food. Mum and I lived for a short while in Florence when she was being trained in goldsmithing there. Because I was very young then and Italy in the 1960s didn’t have English boarding schools, it was up to the neighbours who did me lunch and afternoon meals. Ergo, panforte. About charcuterie, couldn’t explain it better than you could. When I’m in Oz next, I’ll bring you a bottle of Kirschwasser … ahem … for research purposes, of course!

      Like

  2. 95 bucks.. much better value than a panettone.
    thank you very much for this write up. we should meet up and eat one together. i doubt i could finish it. it looks bigger than my face

    Like

    • Like DG says above, panettone is basically flavourless and panforte wins hands down anytime. At HK$95, the price is almost the same as the prices in Italy or the UK. Clearly, the vendor is selling it for love rather than profit. Meet up and eat together? Oh gawd, I thought you’d never ask! I can resist anything except temptation – especially from glamorous people!

      Like

  3. You’re on mate! I’ll bring the panforte and you bring the Kirschwasser and we can give in to our temptations. (I can also cook a lot of those Tuscan dishes that you’ve been missing no doubt). Keep on bloggin’ bro!

    Like

  4. I have updated this story about the shop having gone out of business.

    Like

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