Some dried fruits are great for sweet cravings if you feel. Prunes, Figs, dried Apples, Dates and even the humble Raisins in all the colors and varieties it comes with, are all great for the purpose.. I like them more because of the complex richness in flavor and a chewy texture that enables the flavors to linger on for a while. A nice pleasant snack on it's own. All of them separately.
They make a riot of flavors when combined together. Some more texture from nuts and a few more flavors added in the from of spices and candied orange peel and it makes a killer combo. I am talking about Panforte that is a dense cake with all the dried fruits and some nuts. It must have been a prized recipe for the people of Siena (Italy's Tuscany region) as it has survived the test of time. An excellent way of making a cake that lasts for a long time during festive seasons.
I get a few requests for gluten free recipes and someone recently wanted a dessert that was gluten free as well as low on sugar. I myself keep working of desserts with natural dried fruits or fresh fruits for sweetness, this one came to mind as I had baked a Panforte last year and was thinking how beautifully it can be converted to a gluten free recipe as the amount of flour is minimal and does not require leavening..
I used Water chestnut flour for experimentation and it was a yummy outcome. I have been making a few more variations of Panforte with Water chestnut flour, mixing different types of dried fruits for different flavors. This time it was Prunes from Del monte, dried Figs and two types of raisins, golden and black. Making the sweetness more and more complex works very well for desserts where sugar is not used as a sweetener.
The procedure requires some chopping of these dried fruits, some of you might find it time consuming, but not when you keep snacking on some of them.
10 Del monte Prunes
10 dried figs
1/4 cup of golden raisins
1/4 cup of black raisins
1 cup of almonds (chopped)
1-2 tbsp of candied orange peel
2 tbsp of honey (I didn't use as I used a heaped tbsp of orange marmalade instead)
a pinch of clove and cinnamon powder each
pinch of salt
3/4 cup of Orange juice
1 cup of water chestnut flour (singhade ka atta)
You need a pie dish or a baking tray that is 9" in diameter to get about 1.5 cm thick Panforte from this recipe. Keep a parchment paper cut to size and greased with butter ready.
Chop everything up in small bits.
Now cook with the Orange juice. You can do this in a pan, simmering on low flame till the dried fruits soak up and get soft and swollen. I Microwaved everything together in a wide bowl for 3 minutes, covered.
Mash everything well and add the candied orange peel and Marmalade or honey if using.
Wait till cool and then add the chopped almonds.
Mix well and add the powdered spices and the Water chestnut flour. It is better to reserve some of the flour as the cooked mixture might be too dry to incorporate all of it. Add slowly and keep mixing so you know when the batter is about to turn into a dough.
The consistency will be exactly like this...
Place the parchment paper inside the pie dish, buttered side up and dump the batter in the middle. Note the consistency of batter once again....
It needs to be spread using a spatula or a butter knife, neatly to fill up the margins....
Cut off the edges of the parchment paper and bake in preheated oven on 180 C for 20 minutes or till the center is firm and does not stick when touched.
Cool down and cut in wedges or squares. Wedges for such a large circle would be too large a portion so I normally make squares like any Indian Mithai.
You might like to dust the Panforte with powdered sugar if you like. We like it as it is.
Keeps well in the fridge for a month or even longer. Water chestnut flour has a tendency to gel when heated with liquids and release some moisture when cooled down. So don't worry if the surface looks wet when you serve. It does not spoil the Panforte and does not affect the taste.
I tried this Panforte using the Water-chestnut flour raw and lightly roasted. I personally like the lightly roasted Water-chestnut flour flavor better as it adds to the nutty flavors. The husband liked both the versions. It makes a slight difference as the flavor of the Prunes and Figs is more dominant, the crunchy seeds of the Figs being very rich in texture along with the nuts used.
You can always use nuts of your own choice, Cashew, Hazelnuts or any other nuts that you like would be wonderful.
I would love to know if you like this recipe. For Indians who observe fasting during Navratras and other religious occasions, this is a perfect 'Vrat ka khana' . With no sugar added, it is a nice sweet treat for diabetics if they practice constraint with portions.