My friends need nothing. They’ve worked, traveled and imbibed. Holidays are a challenge. I want to remember them but refuse to add to anyone else’s clutter. Halloween is the season to comb well-loved recipes for the unique. Sundry files are combed for sweets or savories to share over the looming post trick or treat season. I sort, categorize and make gift and shopping lists. It is the only time of the year I plot an outcome. As in writing, I find outlines and lists confining concrete-like limitations. Neither allows for mood, weather or whim. My stack of 20-25 gets whittled to 8-10. Annual favorites are the Grammercy Tavern Gingerbread, Jameson laced Irish Cream, Southern Living Peanut Brittle and Worcestershire Sauce, a mélange of 16 ingredients that requires 3 full weeks of steeping. My personal favorite is Panforte first experienced in Siena, Italy. The ingredients always make the list but I don’t bake it because it’s for me not others. Stupid.
Enter COVID19. I want to bake and write. After a morning of Twitter prompt responses the pantry calls. Chocolate powdered almonds, hazelnuts, cocoa, honey and a follies like array of dried fruits line the baking shelf. Yes, I have a baking shelf.
A writing retreat attended long ago pops into my head. Three glorious weeks at the Castello Montegufoni, south of Florence, on sun-drenched patios, glorious meals, side trips, and shared writing. Mid trip I wandered the car free streets of Siena darting in and out of cave like shops. A bakery case held an unattractive disk labeled Panforte. Remember, don’t judge a book by its cover or Panforte by its dusting of flour. The clerk offered a sample of the spicy, chocolate infused fruit and nut laden cake. You’re imagining the fruit cake we use as doorstops in the States, and you’re so wrong. In the intervening twenty-five years, I’ve made it twice and savored every bite.
A quick check ensures that cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg are on hand. What better way to distance a virus and self-care than with the spices of the orient mixed with human ingenuity and extended shelf life? Stories of Hannibal and Marco Polo echo. Each bite linked in memory with a favorite Italian set book – Passion by Jeanette Winterson. It’s surprising how quickly it comes together. The recipe more a concept than a formula. The currants have crystalized and smell of Moscato. I have no edible rice paper but a parchment cut out will serve. The cook time is 50 minutes but in 5 the smell of chocolate spice is redolent. If it could be bottled I’d dab it behind my ears.
From the baking shelf:
Variety of nuts
Array of dried fruits
Ginger, Cinnamon & Nutmeg
Happy, baking, eating, writing and reading.