Friday, December 23, 2011

A "Strong Bread" for Us Weaklings

Well, I definitely asked for it. Call it a Murphy's Law of a sort - after all my detailing of our holiday climate being anything but "wintry", we woke up today to a bitterly freezing, windy and slightly grey day. Still no snow - but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it holds off at least until Boxing Day! I'm definitely a weak soul when it comes to the chilly weather too, at any given time you can bet I'll be wearing at least a long-sleeved shirt, if not a sweater or two. I even work out in long pants and an athletic jacket!

In the past few months I've become aware of another level of weakness I've managed to accrue - brittle bones. Though I already knew I was osteoporotic in my hip and shins, it never occured to me before that the effect of decalcification impacted my entire skeleton, not just those two bone groups. In the middle of helping my mom make her delicious apple pie (specifically wedging the apples) a pop, clunk and searing pain through one side of my chest signalled something totally alien to me - a broken rib. I never thought I'd have in my lifetime, let alone at 23 years old, any sort of fracture, and I'm sorry to say it took me well over a month filled with painful breathing, bending and twisting to get it checked out. So no contact sports for me, even though it's mostly healed up!

Thankfully, I am still allowed to bake! I was sent a great recipe by Johanna (of the blog Green Gourmet Giraffe) that used the Christmas staple mincemeat in a form other than the traditional tarts or pie. In fact, her panforte was similar to the giant 6-pound fruitcake I made, only smaller and far more taffy-like in texture. It took some finangling on my part (with both Johanna's version and the original from Delicious Magazine) but I figured out a workable formula for the cocoa-laced, spicy cake-candy of Sienna.

Until, that is, I was perusing The Grid T.O. and found one of their post-Hallowe'en articles. In it, one of the Soma Chocolaemakers used Tootsie Rolls, chocolate, cocoa powder, and a variety of spices to create an unusual recipe for a rather traditional-looking panforte. I was inspired, and I knew I had to figure out a way to bring those elements to the plate. In the end, I had a spicy, bittersweet, rich and nutty confection that we've decided to serve both with cheese as an appetizer and on the cookie tray at our Christmas Eve feast tomorrow!

Spicy Chocolate Panforte
Makes a 9" pan, 36 squares
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup honey
50 g butter
100 g miniature Tootsie Rolls
70 g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
300 g mincemeat
1 cup flour
2/3 cup ground almonds
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground black pepper
Grated zest of 1 orange
300 g mixed nuts and/or seeds (I used almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds) 
50 g chopped dried figs 
50 g chopped dried apricots
pinch salt
Icing sugar, to dust
  1. Preheat oven to 320°F and line a 9" square pan with parchment.
  2. Stir sugar, honey, butter, Tootsie Rolls, chocolate and mincemeat in a pan over low heat for 3-5 minutes until sugar dissolves. 
  3. Sift flour, ground almonds, cocoa and spices into a large bowl. 
  4. Add zest, nuts, figs, apricots, salt and mince mixture. 
  5. Stir to combine well – it will be quite stiff.
  6. Press into the prepared pan (I like placing a piece of parchment or cling wrap on the surface and using a second pan to press it evenly).
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until firm and dull-looking on top. 
  8. Cool in pan, then invert onto a board and dust with icing sugar. 
  9. Cut into 36 pieces. 
  10. Wrap well in plastic and age at room temperature for 1 day, then transfer to an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 157.0
Total Fat: 7.4 g
Cholesterol: 3.0 mg
Sodium: 24.2 mg
Total Carbs: 22.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 3.1 g