Panpepato is the peppery relation of Siena’s famous spiced cake; panforte. Both consist of a combination of nuts, preserved fruits, spices and are bound with a honey caramel, though panpepato differs with the addition black pepper. In this recipe I have used pink peppercorns for their fragrant sweet peppery-ness.
There are various stories which speculate on the origin of the two cakes, some say the panpepato’s ingredients were refined in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoys visit to Siena in 1879 (Panforte di Margherita). It is also thought that panpepato possesses aphrodisiac qualities and has the power to prevent spouses from fighting… a good reason to bake a batch or two for your loved ones at this busy time of year!
2 sheets of confectioners rice paper (see note)
50gm (1/3 cup) plain flour
40gm Dutch-process cocoa
1 tbsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp coarsely crushed pink peppercorns
200gm candied oranges, coarsely chopped
80gm (3/4 cup) almonds, roasted
80gm each walnuts and hazlenuts, roasted and peeled (see note)
150gm caster sugar
To dust, icing sugar
Preheat oven to 150C. Lightly grease five 10cm-diameter springform pans, line bases with baking paper and then rice paper (rough side facing up), trimming to fit. Sift flour and cocoa into a bowl, add spices, orange and nuts and toss to coat well in flour mixture.
Heat caster sugar, honey and 2 tbsp water in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Do not stir again as mixture may crystallise. Bring to the boil and cook until mixture reaches 120C on a sugar thermometer (soft ball stage). Working quickly with a lightly oiled spoon, pour caramel over nut mixture, mixing well. Spoon into prepared pans and smooth tops with an oiled spatula. Bake for 10-15 minutes (time it carefully because this cake will not firm up or colour as it cooks). Cool completely in pans, turn out, then dust liberally with icing sugar. Panpepato will keep, wrapped in baking paper and then plastic wrap in an airtight container in a cool place, or better still in the fridge. I have kept some in the fridge for over a year, and have found the flavour improves with keeping, like any spiced fruit cake.
To present as a gift, wrap panpepato in baking paper before wrapping as desired. Serve cut into wedges, with espresso or with a rich sticky wine such as tokay or muscat.
Note: This recipe makes 5 cakes. Confectioner’s rice paper is available from speciality food stores. To remove nut skins, roast nuts at 180C (8-10 minutes) until golden. Cool, then rub skins off between the folds of a tea towel.