Buon Natale

“Quick I need to go to bed” are not words normally associated with my son. But, tonight is not any ordinary night. Santa Claus is coming to town. Or, is he? It’s been touch and go at our place over recent weeks.

While on the subject of things out of the norm, car trip games have changed since my childhood. Eye Spy has been replaced in our car by “name brands of cricket bats” – last person standing wins. I learnt quite a lot about cricket equipment from Master Five during our very long car journey. And, despite some good guesses (who knew adidas made bats?!), I lost. If this is him at five, I don’t even want to think what he’s going to be like in two or three year’s time.

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One thing that hasn’t changed, is my love of things Christmas. While I’ve been slow on the writing this year, I’ve not stopped cooking or decorating the house to celebrate the season. Here’s one of my Christmas favourites, perfect for any time of year. If you visit any bakery or food store in Tuscany, you’ll be sure to find loads of panforte, all slightly different, decorating the shelves. All are delicious and it’s hard to stop at just one piece.

The big secret to making panforte is to work fast once you add the liquid to the dry ingredients – it’s gooey and it sticks. But, the effort is worth it.

What you’ll need

250g almonds (or a mix of almonds and brazil or hazelnuts) – I usually use blanched almonds, but skin on are fine and I used them  in this recipe

120g dried apricots

60g mixed peel

70g dark chocolate

60g plain flour

2 Tbsp cocoa

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

50g brown sugar

140g honey (about ½ C)

How to make it

Turn oven to 180°C.

Line a tray with baking paper and toast nuts in the oven. This will take five-seven minutes. I often give them a turn part way through. When lightly golden, remove the nuts from the oven and pour them on to something cold to cool down. Turn the oven down to 160°C.

Line a 20cm round tin with baking paper (or two 10cm tins).

20151123_185934Roughly chop the apricots and put into a large bowl. Add in the mixed peel and chopped chocolate.

Once the nuts have cooled down, roughly chop them and combine with the other ingredients.

20151123_190615Sift the flour, cocoa, cinnamon and ginger over the fruit and nuts and mix through.

20151123_190600Put sugar and honey into a saucepan over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil for about five minutes until soft ball stage (when a few drops in cold water will form a soft ball).

20151123_191200Pour the sugar mixture into the dry ingredients and mix together quickly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is combined.

Working quickly, spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for around 40 minutes until cooked (smaller cakes may take less time) – this is when it isn’t tacky in the middle. But, don’t overcook as it will continue cooking when it comes out of the oven.

20151124_100939Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. Remove from the tin and wrap in foil when completely cold.

20151124_101134Ideally keep it at least a day until you cut into it. Cut in small slithers and serve dusted with icing sugar. Perfect with a cuppa or at the end of a meal with a glass of vin santo.

Merry Christmas all, thanks for dropping by to check out my mutterings throughout the year. Look after you and yours this festive season, and be grateful for the good things we have. We lead a blessed life here in Aotearoa.

I’d like to finish by taking a moment to reflect on those not with us this Christmas, and send much aroha to Anna and Lindsay’s families.

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