Left-Brain / Right-Brain Cookery

A double-take in the kitchen

Chocolate panforte & mousse

Chocolate panforte

Chocolate panforte

LEFT BRAIN: Panforte

This confection is a dense chewy mass of nuts and chocolate with just a little fruit and a hint of spices – yummy! It is a Siena, Italy specialty with history back to the 13th century. Jokingly I call it the grown-up version of a Tootsie Roll!
Some recipes call it a “fruitcake” – it has fruit and nuts in it, but is more a candy not anything like a cake. My fruit-cake detesting husband devours panforte, given the chance!

325F (160C) oven

Makes: 2 dozen wedges

1 3/4 – 2 cups (about 220g) mixed nuts (see tip below)
1/2 cup (85g) chopped mixed candied fruits and peel
1/3 cup (155g) raisins
2 oz (56g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup (93g) flour
3 tbsp (15g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
2/3 cup (150 mL) liquid honey
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) bitter orange marmalade, finely-chopped
2 tbsp (30 mL) brandy
1 tsp (15 mL) vanilla

  1. Preheat oven with rack in middle. Grease sides of a 10-inch (25-cm) spring-form pan or a tart pan with removable bottom. Line bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, if using, in a baking pan. Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add pecans and pine nuts, if using, and bake 8 minutes more or until all nuts are lightly toasted. Cool; then put half of mixture aside (leaving whole). Chop remaining nuts coarsely with a large chefs knife.
  3. In a large bowl, combine whole and chopped nuts, candied fruit, raisins and chocolate. In another bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the fruits and nuts and toss to coat evenly.
  4. In a small saucepan, bring the honey and sugar to boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Boil gently for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in marmalade, brandy and vanilla.
  5. Pour hot syrup over fruit mixture, briefly stirring to mix. Let sit one minute so all the chocolate is melted; then stir again and turn into prepared pan. The mixture is thick.
  6. Use damp fingers, as needed, to spread evenly. Bake for 40 minutes or just until firm in the centre; do not over-bake. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Then loosen sides of the pan. Cool completely before removing from pan bottom.
  7. Use a sharp knife to cut into very thin wedges. Serve with fresh fruit and strong coffee. Panforte keeps well at room temperature, covered air tight, for a month.

Nut tip: My favourite combination is using about a third each of walnuts, whole almonds and hazelnuts with a couple of tablespoons (16g) of pine nuts thrown in (keep total amount to that above). Pecans are non-traditional but also delicious. Beware that pine nuts and pecans toast quickly so are added later to the toasting nuts.

Joanna’s comments:
This panforte is elegant, cuts well into slim wedges and packs a delightful chocolate flavour with satisfying “chew”.

Chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse

RIGHT BRAIN: Chocolate mousse

Are you desirous of something small, yet decadent, when feasting on Valentine’s Day or an anniversary? Look no further as this recipe can be made for one or two or as many people that are sitting down for dinner, but here it’s for two. Make it a few hours in advance so the mousse firms up a bit.

Serves 2

2 fresh eggs
2 oz (56g) dark, not too sweet chocolate
1 tbsp (15 mL) water (see tip)
1 tbsp (15 mL) liqueur (such as Kahlua, Chambord or Gran Marnier)
Chocolate covered espresso beans, raspberries, chopped roasted nuts, etc, (preferably to match the liqueur)

  1. Melt chocolate, water and liqueur gently on stovetop or in microwave. Stir until smooth and leave to cool.
  2. Lightly beat yolks and stir into cooled chocolate until thoroughly blended; set aside
  3. Whip whites until stiff; they will not move when the bowl is tipped. [If the sky is not clear, add a tiny pinch of cream of tartar to help with the whipping.]
  4. Using half the whites, gently fold into chocolate. Once incorporated, fold in the rest until the colour is even.
  5. Spoon into elegant glassware or espresso cups. Garnish when serving.

Tip: Feel free to exchange the water for some espresso or more liqueur.

Marilyn’s comments:
This is truly a classic dessert that doesn’t involve hours of work.
Some times I make a white chocolate mousse, not a classic, by melting 3 oz (84g) pure white chocolate (Callebaut or other high-end product) and 1/4 cup (60 mL) whipping cream gently in the microwave, stirring every 10-15 seconds until just melted and smooth. Cool; meanwhile beat 3/4 cup (175 mL) cold whipping cream until stiff. Fold in chocolate mixture. Turn into four to six small cups; top each with a tiny piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three days. Garnish, as desired, but fresh berries are stunning! Serves 4 to 6.


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