Strong Bread


I’ve never met a fruitcake I didn’t like, but panforte is first among equals. I only make it at Christmas time for some reason, although it’s a nice companion for cheese year round. I’ve tweaked this recipe over the years to get the spicing just where I want it and the right proportion of fruit to nuts. (Lots of nuts.) It keeps a long time, but not at my house.

Panforte My Way

Serve with a favorite blue cheese (Gorgonzola is pictured above) and a dessert wine, such as vin santo, Madeira, oloroso sherry or Port. From The Cheese Course by Janet Fletcher (Chronicle Books).

  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 cup unskinned almonds
  • 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seed, lightly crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 pound dried figs, thinly sliced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup honey 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast hazelnuts and almonds (together, if you like) on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant and lightly colored inside, about 15 minutes. Let cool, then chop very coarsely. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom or an 8-inch cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves and orange zest. Add the nuts and figs and stir to coat.
In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and honey over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium and cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 245°F, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately pour over the nut mixture. Working quickly, stir until the dry ingredients are coated; the mixture will be stiff. Transfer to the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with a wooden spoon dipped in cold water. Bake 40 minutes. The mixture will still be tacky to the touch. Cool completely on a rack, then remove from the pan and remove the parchment paper. Slice into thin wedges to serve.

Makes one 8-inch panforte

Sunday School

In my hometown (Dallas), you can’t buy beer before noon on Sunday. You’re supposed to be in church. Maybe that’s why I so enjoy a good brew with lunch at home on Sundays. It’s almost like forbidden fruit.
Last month, I even waited until 2 p.m. to have my Sunday beer—make that plural—at Triple Voodoo in San Francisco. The brewpub was showcasing four of its brews with cheeses chosen by Mission Cheese monger Alex Armstrong. Four cheeses, four beers, twenty bucks.
See if you agree with Armstrong’s matchups. Which ones would you pair? I’ve put his choices below.

Cheese & Beer

1) Breaka’ Dawn Belgian Pale Ale
2) Biere du Blanc (Belgian Golden Strong Ale brewed with Sauvignon Blanc grape juice)
3) Endure Fort Winterscotch Ale (made with smoked malt)
4) Hydrogen Jukebox Imperial IPA
A) Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk
B) Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl
C) Central Coast Creamery Goat Gouda
D) Valley Ford Creamery Estero Gold
I thought the Winterscotch Ale was the standout beer, compatible with all the cheeses but especially the Gouda. These monthly tastings will continue through March at Triple Voodoo, with different California creameries and cheese experts on hand. On Sunday, December 20, Marin French Cheese will be the featured producer. Reserve here. Odds are good that the tasting will include Marin French Schloss, recently featured in Planet Cheese and winner of a Super Gold at the recent World Cheese Awards in London.
Armstrong’s pairings: 1C; 2B; 3D; 4A

Classes Make Classy Gifts


A Gift Certificate to the 2016 World Cheese Tour is guaranteed to fit. Your recipients can choose any of eight themed evenings of cheese exploration with me at a comfortable Napa Valley cooking school. British cheeses….best cheeses for Cabernet Sauvignon…cheese with craft beer…there’s a topic for every taste. Gift certificates can be mailed to you or directly to your recipients. Details here.