PUBLISHED: 05:28 26 January 2015 | UPDATED: 07:34 26 January 2015
Archant © 2014
Enjoy an Italian treat with a sophisticated flavour from Richard Hughes of the Lavender House in Brundall
Christmas is definitely the time for tradition. Mince pies, Christmas cake, stollen, mulled wine, you know the drill. So it’s always exciting to come across another recipe that can be added to the repertoire, and they don’t come with much more history that this spicy biscuit cake, livened with black pepper, that dates from the 1200s. From the Siena region of Italy, it is served from Christmas day to Epiphany. Full of festive dried fruits, nuts,spices and dark chocolate, (though this ingredient was a much later addition), Panpepato was how the Duke of Ferrara celebrated the feast of St Martin – with the cake studded with gold pieces. A grander take on our Christmas pudding with the odd sixpence, I think!
It was used as a tithe to the monasteries and carried by crusaders as sustenance on their quests; a sort of forerunner to our own Caley’s Marching Chocolate.
The Italians do celebratory baking far better than most, indeed, there’s a very good reason why Italian food is so revered. Of all European nations I think they are the real cooks, with an innate sense of simplicity, seasonality and consistency in their recipes. Though they have great restaurants, for most of the population it is all about home cooking for family and friends, every meal of every day of the year, not just for Christmas.
You can add or subtract from the recipe, but ‘tis the season for gluttony and generosity so add what you wish – more spice, different nuts such as pistachio, hazelnut and/or pinenuts, dried cranberries, crystallised ginger, espresso coffee, the choice is yours. The spicy pepper, bitter chocolate and alcohol makes for a very adult confection, so you may well end up with it to enjoy as opposed to sharing with the rest of the family. On occasions, the Italians serve it with Parmesan and my favourite dessert wine of all time, Vin Santo. Crucially, you can make it well ahead of the celebrations, so make extra and it will see you through to next Christmas!
60ml Vin Santo, masala, port or sweet sherry
50g flaked almonds
50g dried figs
100g candied peel
50g glace cherries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g cocoa powder
4 tablepoons of honey
50g softened butter
150g caster sugar
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 Bring the raisins to the boil in the liquor. Allow to cool.
2 Place the sifted flour and cocoa into a bowl.
3 Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and baking powder.
4 Add the pepper.
5 Add the chopped figs and the peel.
6 Add the chopped cherries.
7 Add the nuts.
8 Combine all the ingredients.
9 Warm the butter with the honey.
10 Add the sugar.
11 Pour the butter, sugar and honey mixture into the dry ingredients.
12 Mix thoroughly.
13 Spoon into a shallow line tin and flatten with a spatula. Bake at 150C for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
14 Melt the chocolate with the olive oil.
15 Beat to amalgamate.
16 Carefully remove the Panpepato from the tin. Cover the top with the melted chocolate mix and cool.