Panforte: the sweet symbol of a city

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


While there are few certainties in life, there is one thing that we can be sure of: it is impossible not to love the Tuscan cuisine! Tuscan delicacies can be enjoyed whether you are in big cities, in the small taverns of medieval villages, in the farms or in the Tuscany villas that have been turned into restaurants.

But what are typical Tuscan dishes? Well, there are many...

Nobody can claim to know the Tuscan cuisine without first having tasted a Fiorentina steak, or a plate of Acquacotta , Ribollita, or having tried a slice of Pecorino Toscano (Tuscan sheep’s cheese).

But today we want to talk about desserts, in particular one delicious sweet dish that has become a symbol of Siena: Panforte.

Panforte is a type of Christmas cake with origins dating back to medieval times. At that time it was called “Pane natalizio” which translates as “Christmas Bread”. For many centuries it was considered a dessert for the rich and could only be found at the banquets of nobility who lived in castles and in the Tuscany villas. The original recipe contained expensive spices that only the affluent could afford.

There are many different flavours in the mixture including pepper, honey, sugar, candied fruit and almonds. The recipe remained unchanged for many centuries, until 1879. In that year, "Margherita di Savoia" who had recently been crowned Queen of Italy, paid a visit to Siena. It was customary in Italy to devote a revised version of a typical dish to famous or royal people when they visited a city. In Siena, therefore, the classic recipe of Panforte was changed to make it lighter and vanilla icing sugar was added on top.

And so, “Il Panforte Margherita” was born in Siena and it is the same recipe that we are familiar with today. In fact, for the same reason ten years later, the world famous Pizza Margherita was born in Naples.

Of course, now Panforte isn’t exclusive for the noble and rich of the Tuscany villas. Panforte has become a popular sweet and can be easily found in shops around the region.

A final curios thought: To make Panforte correctly, in accordance to the Sienese, you must include precisely seventeen ingredients, one for each of the seventeen districts (Contrade) of the famous "Palio di Siena"!

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