And – boom! – just like that it is almost a couple of weeks to Christmas. A slight tightening of the stomach and a thin veil of sweat on the brow is the response from many. The festive season is almost here and with it all the pressure of shopping for the perfect Christmas gift.
If I may backtrack a little. This year I moved house and, as many people would agree, packing makes us realise we have way too much stuff in our lives. Some of it is necessary, some of it is needless accumulation, and some of it is unwanted and unasked-for Christmas presents.
Christmas is a time when many of us feel compelled to give people gifts and, as the year starts to collapse in on itself, the urgency builds. Where to go shopping? What to buy? Will they like it? Can I afford it?
My advice? Forgo those sterile shopping centres with their overcrowded subterranean parking bunkers, avoid the packed high streets, and do a little shopping
at your local fruit and nut shop. Then, head home to your kitchen, crank up Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and get baking.
Panforte is simple to make. While it has a long list of ingredients, they can all be mixed by hand in a big bowl. And the best bit? You can make it a few weeks in advance, wrap it in cellophane, and skip the throngs at the shopping centres altogether.
Next week, another sweet treat for under the Christmas tree: nougat of Montélimar.
– 400g blanched almonds
– 400g shelled pistachios
– 200g seeded raisins
– 200g currants
– 120g dried or glacé figs
– 120g dried or glacé apricots
– 300g mixed peel
– 200g plain flour
– 2 tbsp Dutch cocoa
– 2 tsp ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1 tsp white pepper
– 1 tsp ground coriander
– 300g 55 per cent chocolate buttons
– 1½ tbsp water
– 300g honey
– 200g castor sugar
Preheat oven to 160ºC. Line a 30-centimetre x 34-centimetre x four-centimetre deep tray with baking paper or edible rice-paper sheets.
Toast almonds on a baking tray for 10 minutes, shaking the tray occasionally to prevent scorching.
In a large bowl, mix the nuts, fruit, peel, flour, cocoa, spices and chocolate. Bring the water, honey and sugar to a boil and pour into the bowl. Mix well.
Lightly oil your hands and press the mixture into a prepared tin. Bake for 35 minutes until covered in fine blisters.
Cool completely in the tin, then turn out and cut into pieces to serve. If not using the panforte immediately, cut into slabs ready to be cut further as required. The panforte will stay moist longer if handled this way. Wrap tightly in a double sheet of foil to store.
This can also be made in little or big round cake tins, making it about two-centimetres deep, and wrapped in brown paper as a gift.
2017 Scion muscat nouveau, Rutherglen ($29)
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 9, 2017 as "Requiem for panforte". Subscribe here.