Panforte Cookies - They're Still Winners

Well, I didn't win. But I'm still really proud of my effort. Especially when you know that recipe development is not my forte. I had entered Scharffenberger Chocolate's yearly Chocolate Adventure contest. The 2012 theme had been Cookie Sandwiches. 

Another fact about me is that I don't care for fruit and chocolate. I'm a nuts and chews girl. So don't give me chocolate covered cherries or a chocolate cake that has raspberry jam in the center. Yuck. Yet last year I learned that having a bit of fruit, chopped up, can really add nice texture to cookies. Thank you, Yigit Pura. 

And I do like a good panforte. Panforte means "strong bread" in Italian.  But it's more dessert than bread. The best description is that it is an Italian fruit cake, although it is really closer to a candy than a baked good. It's so rich that you only eat a sliver at a time. Like all those jokes about fruit cakes lasting for years, panforte will last a long time. It was because of this that it was often carried by travelers in the Middle Ages. You can store it in a cupboard, no need to refrigerate, for weeks.

Recipes for panforte vary as much as each region of Italy. Every family can have their own closely guarded recipe. The beauty of it is that you can put all sorts of stuff into it depending on what you have or what you like. There will always be nuts, usually almonds and hazelnuts. The nuts are kept whole and not chopped up. The varying ingredients could be: raisins, dried figs and/or apricots, and candied citrus peel. There is also a lot of spice, so this is another area where you can doctor to your tastes. Some even it get to be spicier by adding pepper.

The addition of chocolate didn't apparently start until the 1800s. In Italy you will find versions with and without chocolate. Myself, I've only ever had the chocolate version. 

I decided that I wanted the elements of a panforte, the fruit and nuts, in a cookie. Thus, panforte cookies. I had to try several batches, tweaking as I went, to make sure the cookies had the right texture and held together well with all the mix-ins.  My coworkers were thrilled and have given their approval of this final version.

NOTE: I have made this recipe gluten-free and vegan as well for my brother's girlfriend. It came out terrific. Just substitute gluten-free flour for the regular and add a 1/2 teaspoon of xantham gum. 

For vegan, replace the eggs with a mixture of 2 Tablespoons of ground flax seed that has sat in 6 Tablespoons of water for 5 minutes. Add the goopy mixture in as your egg substitute. Substitute margarine or other vegan shortening for the butter.

Panforte Cookies
  • 1/3 cup dried figs, chopped
  • 1/3 cup almonds, chopped
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspooon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces Scharffenberger bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
Cooking Directions
  1. In a small bowl, combine the hazelnuts, almonds, figs, and raisins.
  2. In another small bowl, combine the flour, cocoas, baking soda, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the nut/fruit mixture to help separate the sticky pieces.
  3. In a microwave proof bowl, place the butter and bittersweet chocolate. Microwave a minute on high. Stir to mix. Microwave another 30-60 seconds until the chocolate is melted. Add spices and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar at medium speed until light yellow and satiny, about 3-4 minutes. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly. Using a spatula, mix in the dry ingredients until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While it's heating up, place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator and scoop by small scoopfuls (about 2 Tablespoons each) and place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating sheets once at 5 minutes. Cookies should be removed when the cookies are set, but soft in the middle. Cool for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire cooling racks.

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