nuts

Panforte

Panforte cross-section
a chocolate version of the famous Italian fruitcake: Panforte

Yes - it's the holiday season. I've been busy making super-rich frighteningly tasty treats including my own version of the amazing sweet/spicy/chewy/bitter/nutty Italian cake/confection panforte (aka Sienna cake).

Some inspiring recipes for panforte:

I've read slightly different historical accounts of panforte - here's the Wikipedia's most recent write-up:

"Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert containing fruits and nuts, and resembling fruitcake or Lebkuchen. It may date back to 13th century Siena, in Italy's Tuscany region. Documents from 1205 show that Panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax or tithe which was due on the seventh of February that year. Literally, Panforte means "strong bread" which refers to the spicy flavour. The original name of Panforte was "panpepato" (pepper bread), due to the strong pepper used in the cake. There are references to the Crusaders carrying Panforte, a durable confection, with them on their quests."

Currently there are many shops in Italy producing Panforte, each recipe being their jealously guarded interpretation of the original confection and packaged in distinctive wrapping. Usually a small wedge is served with coffee or a dessert wine after a meal, though some enjoy it with their coffee at breakfast."

(more history here)

ps - panforte is really really sweet so consume in moderation ;-)

Panforte discovery

In my search for an amazing fruitcake recipe, I came across panforte. Panforte, or "strong bread" is like the Italian version of fruitcake: very rich and full of nuts, honey, spices, citrus peel - more like a confection than cake.

lovely little poppy-seeds

Poppy-Seed
lovely little poppyseeds

I definitely have a thing for poppy-seeds. They taste great, look cool, and seem help me relax when I eat a lot of them... not sure why ;-)

These famous/infamous little seeds seem to pop up around the winter season in traditional Eastern European foods. One dish that I've had the pleasure of eating is Kutya (also Kutia): a traditional sweet Ukrainian (and Russian, Eastern Orthodox) dish eaten on Christmas Eve for good luck and fertility. It's basically cooked wheat with honey, ground poppy-seeds, nuts, and sometimes dried fruit. It's so tasty and satisfying that I crave it year-round!

Recipes: KUTYA, Ukrainian Christmas Kutya ( Kutia)
And here's a Lithuanian recipe for Poppy-Seed Milk (dairy-free!)

poppy

 

Hi there pumpkin pie!

A sugar pumpkin - perfect for pies! image from Cook's Thesaurus

I absolutely love pumpkin pie. There are thousands of pumpkin pie recipes on the web - but most are loaded with superfluous fat and sugar. Winter squash is a magical thing, and has its own lovely richness. Here are some tips on how to make a classic recipe healthier, without compromising flavour and texture of course!

A Versatile Classic ~ Healthy Banana Bread

banana bread touch test

What classic baked good is easy to make, delicious, nutritious, yeast-free, portable, and can use up all sorts of bits floating in your pantry? You guessed it ;-)

I often make variations of these basic, easy, healthy banana bread recipes:
Healthy Banana Bread and Easy Gluten-free Banana Bread

Wonderfully versatile, banana bread can incorporate just about any nut (pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts...), seed (pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy-seeds...), fruit (figs, dates, apricots, berries...), flour (wheat, rice, spelt, barley...), sweetener (honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, fruit concentrate, marmalade/preserves, sucanat, stevia...), spice (cinnamon, nutmeg...) chocolate (chips, baker's chocolate, bars - dark, medium, or white), carob chips, extracts (vanilla, almond, lemon, orange...), or booze (rum, Kahlua, Grand Marnier...).

Tips for delicious and healthy banana bread variations:

nuts: use 1/2-1c. nut combos like pecans and walnuts are great. chop up large nuts
seeds (use up to): 1Tbsp poppyseeds, 2Tbsp sesame seeds, 1/4c sunflour seeds or pepitas
booze: 1-2Tbsp
extracts: 1/4tsp lemon/orange, 1/2tsp almond, up to 1Tbsp vanilla
sugar: 1/2c of sweetener/sugar (brown sugar, sucanat, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, preserves...) is enough to make a sweet tasty bread. (I use as little as 1/4c.) try sweetener combinations like: 1/4c honey, 2Tbsp orange marmalade, 2Tbsp brown sugar
chocolate: 1/2c is great. you can, of course, use more or less (1/4c-1c)
mixing tip: coat chocolate and dried fruit with flower before mixing in to prevent it from sticking to the pan

*Bonus: a great way to use up all those over-ripe bananas!

UPDATE: Some new variations:

Chocolate Fractal Banana Bread: Gorgeous, delicious and marbled with chocolate.
Super-Healthy Banana Bread: Multi-grain, whole-grain and wonderfully spiced: gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and flavorful with no unnecessary sugar or fat.