The Panforte and Panpepato

Throughout Italy, fruitcakes are mainly eaten during the christmas festive season, however in Siena, the province were such cakes come from, they eaten all year round. Consequently, the town of Siena always has a distinctive smell of Panforte Margherita.

There are two main types of sweet cake, called Panforte and Panpepato, which have something in common: both cakes originate from the Focaccia alla frutta which was very popular in the medival times. The cake is made from flour, honey and seasonal fruits which are all mixed in together, and then knead into the dough. When cooking the cake mixture should be left slightly damp so that the fruit leaves the cake with a distictive sharp, bitterlike taste: which is the reason behind the name Panforte (as, in this context, forte actually means bitter.

It seems that, during a period when the town was under siege, sister Berta, worried about the health of the local residents, decided to make a cake for these hard working countrymen in order to give them an energy boost and increased strength for work. To make her cake, she used the traditional recipe of the Panforte, replacing the fresh fruit with candied fruit (mainly orange and melon) and adding large quantities of almonds, ginger, pepper and other sweet spices. And so, the Panpepato was in this way born.

Sister Berta did, in fact, succeed in her task of boosting the health of the weak countrymen and as a result the Panpepato was considered as a dessert which holds a family together. Thecake is also known for its aphrodisiac hot spices.

The first of these two cakes was, in fact, first introduced at Siena’s famous annual horse racing tournament, Palio, in 1879 in the hope of rivalling the famous Savoia. The local chefs thought that their original traditional dessert was not well-suited to a variety of palettes, so they decided to create a completely new product in honour of the Queen, thus naming it Panforte Margherita.

This type of Panforte, which is much more famous and commercialized today, in relation to Panpepato, sweeter as it contains pumpkin and cedar and above all it is not as spicy since the pepper has been replaced with vanilla flavouring.

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