Cretan “Panforte”

This really isn’t a traditional Panforte, so my title is a tad bit misleading – hence the quotation marks around “Panforte”. Panforte is an Italian creation, a speciality of Siena and other parts of Northern Italy, that literally translates as strong bread.

This Cretan creation is a compact dried fruit bread/cake, similar in make-up as its Northern Italian counterpart. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if they have an historical culinary connection. After all, Crete had been part of the widespread Venetian Empire for centuries. It is inevitable that certain cooking techniques or recipes had been common during those Venetian times, changed and adapted over time to accommodate local tastes and ingredients.

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Fig & Walnut Cake
I modified the original Cretan recipe somewhat, upping the amount of walnuts and substituting honey for pekmezi, a grape must syrup. Excellent cut and eaten as a sweet treat, or as an accompaniment to sharp cheeses.

  • 500g dried figs
  • 150g walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) honey
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) Ouzo
  • Sesame seeds to coat

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (approximately 350 degrees F). Remove the hard ‘nib’ from the figs, then chop them finely – either by hand or in the food processor by a start-stop pulse action. There should be some small bits of fig rather than a smooth purée.

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Put the fig into a large mixing bowl. Roughly chop the walnut and add these to the fig. Then, add the cinnamon, cloves, honey and Ouzo to the bowl and mix throughly until you have a thick paste. You may need to work the mixture with your hands.

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Divide the fig mixture into 4, shaping each quarter to form a small round cake much like a thick hamburger.

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In a wide shallow bowl, put in a good helping of sesame seeds. Take each fig cake and place in the sesame seeds, turning it over and running the edges around in the bed of seeds to completely cover the cakes.

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Place the sesame studded cakes on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Place in the heated oven for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the cake) to allow the honey to set and the cakes to firm slightly.

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Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Wrap each cake individually in a greaseproof paper and keep in a cool place or in the refrigerator. They make excellent gifts and are a welcome addition to the holiday cheese platter.

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15 comments

  1. I second Mrs Recipe! Am putting dried figs on the shopping list and this will be on our Christmas Day pre dinner snack table. Love it. (Christmas is at our house this year, alternating delight and panic.) Everyone pitches in but being the host is always a tad, well, stressful.

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    • The sesame seeds are great with this fig and walnut cake – makes it a bit more distinctive from Italian panforte which is also a compressed dried fruit and nut creation. And, it is really good cut and eaten with cheese.

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  2. An interesting post, for I didn’t know of a Cretan-Venitian connection. These cakes sound delicious, no matter where they originated, Any cake that has both fig and walnut within it must be good. I know I’d love them. 🙂

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    • The Venetians owned quite a bit of Greece at one time. The Ionian Islands (which included Kythera), parts of the Peloponnese, Crete, etc. Just look for Venetian fortresses up and down the Adriatic coast and along shipping routes to the Middle East in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was a way of controlling the lucrative shipping routes that gave rise to the wealth of Venice. On Crete it was also a time of great art and literature – El Greco came from Crete. But, I stray from the point of my post! I have no way of proving that there is a connection between the “strong bread” of Northern Italy and Crete, but it seems possible. I love this fig and walnut cake with sharp (good quality) cheddars.

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