If you’re looking for an ancient, interesting holiday food, you can’t find one much more ancient and interesting than this. Panforte is the traditional holiday cake of Siena, and it’s been on the menu in that province at least since the thirteenth century, where it shows up as a tax paid to monks. Imagine—paying your taxes in cake. The name translates as “strong bread,” and that is as good a way to describe it as I can think of.
It’s intense and delicious and, held in your hand, seems to weigh far more than it should. It’s not a leavened cake, so its texture is more like fig cake or a dense brownie. It’s loaded with nuts, and candied citrus and medievally sweetened, spiced with honey, cloves, cinnamon and more. I like a thin slice with a cup of espresso. It also goes well alongside Tuscany’s traditional dessert wine, Vin Santo. It lasts—another reason it’s “strong”—so you can put slices of panforte on your holiday dessert trays over multiple nights, and it won’t go stale.