Enjoying Panforte in Siena – the Panforte Capital of Italy:
For our visit of Siena, one of the things on my to-do list was to buy some Panforte from the city where this cake originated. Siena panforte is a dense fruit cake with candied fruits and nuts. But what makes it different from other fruit cakes is the distinctive flavour of spices and, in some brands, its slightly chewy texture.
Origin of Siena Panforte
Some say that Panforte was a creation of royal pastry chefs to the Court of Siena at the end of the dark ages. When Marco Polo came back from his voyages to the East, the treasures that he brought back included exotic spices and dried fruit, which were a rarity in Italy. The mysterious spices inspired the chefs to create a gift for their royal court and the cake was believed to be so seductive that it became a symbol of Siena. Merchants would carry the nutritious Panforte (literally translated as ‘strong bread’) in their saddle bags on the long journey from Siena to Venice and the Siena cake soon became an important trade commodity between Europe and the Far East.
Others say that there’s documents from 1205 which show that panforte was paid as a tax to the monks and nuns of a local monastery and that it was originally known as panpepato (peppered bread).
Whatever its origin, Siena is acknowledged by most Italians as the Panforte capital of Italy. This was very evident as we strolled through the streets of Siena. There was no risk in me not finding panforte as every cafe and delicatessen stocked this Siena cake and there are also specialist panforte shops.
Good Siena Panforte
Unlike a poor quality panforte, which tends to be overly sweet and starchy, a good Siena Panforte has the right balance between nutty texture, spices and sweetness. Although the generic name for this cake is Siena Panforte, there are a few varieties of this delicious Siena cake, including the traditional Panforte Margherita, which was named after Queen Margherita. The queen tried some of this cake when she visited Siena for the Palio and liked it and so a variety was named after her.
Panforte used to be a Christmas specialty, but these days they are available throughout the year. It keeps well when stored in airtight containers in a dry place. The Siena cake is a heavy cake and you don’t need a lot of it. Thin slices of panforte enjoyed with an espresso is just divine.