I'm Dreaming of a European Christmas, Part II: Panforte and Stollen Bites

Before our holiday party I had never tasted a panforte, much less contemplated making one. But the recipe was a natural choice -- not only because I had lots of nuts and candied orange peel on hand, but also because the cake can be made far in advance; the recipe says it will keep for two months! I always try to spread out the baking workload before our party, so recipes that give me a long lead time are a big plus.

Making the panforte was surprisingly easy. You combine toasted hazelnuts and almonds with candied orange peel, flour, salt, and spices (cloves, nutmeg, white pepper, and cinnamon); pour over a syrup of sugar, honey, and butter that has been heated to 245 degrees; stir to combine; press the mixture into a greased and parchment-lined pan; and bake. The recipe calls for 450 grams (one pound) of candied peel and I decided to improvise a bit, using a combination of candied orange peel (200 grams), pomelo peel (50 grams), and diced dried pineapple (200 grams).
It was really difficult to tell whether the panforte was done because it's not supposed to be firm when you take it out of the oven. I used a loose-bottomed pan, which made the cake easier to release before I dusted it generously with powdered sugar. The recipe says it yields 20 small wedges of cake, but I cut the panforte into thin strips and treated it more like candy; there's so little flour in the cake that it's semi-translucent and looks like a confection. Later, it occurred to me that I could have cut it into small caramel-like blocks and wrapped each piece in waxed paper. I'm a huge fan of this panforte. The cake is chewy and pliable, but it still cuts cleanly. Basically, it's a bunch of nuts and fruit held together with yummy sweet chewy stuff. I couldn't really taste the pineapple mixed in with so much candied peel, but I didn't mind. The spice level is subtle, but a nice touch. There was not a scrap of panforte left after our party and I made another one the following week to take to my parents in California over Christmas. I can verify that a panforte wrapped in parchment paper and sealed in a Ziploc bag travels exceedingly well, even in checked luggage.

The final European holiday dessert on our party menu was King Arthur Flour's Stollen Bites (I'm not going to claim these are traditional, since they I don't think bite-sized stollen are common in Germany or anywhere else, for that matter). I chose this recipe for the same reason as the panforte. It would use up some of the dried fruit I had stockpiled in preparation for holiday baking, and it could be made a few days in advance. In addition, I very much liked the idea of having individual servings of stollen, because a whole slice of stollen can be a lot to ask people to eat at a holiday party.

This dough starts with a sponge made from flour, water, and instant yeast. After letting the sponge sit for a few hours, I added more flour, softened butter, baker's special dry milk, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, almond extract, and orange zest, and kneaded the dough in my KitchenAid until it was shiny and elastic. Then I added slivered almonds and dried fruit (glace cherries, golden raisins, and diced pineapple) that had been soaked in rum. The dough was very springy and it was difficult to incorporate the nuts and fruit.

I let the dough rise for a few hours, divided it into 40 balls (it took a lot of work to keep all of the fruit and nuts tucked inside so they didn't just fall out), and then let the bites rise for another 45 minutes. I was a little worried because the dough didn't look like it was rising much, but the bread expanded nicely in the oven. While the balls were still warm, I dipped them in melted butter and coated them in powdered sugar.
To be honest, traditional stollen isn't a favorite of mine -- but I loved these cute little bites. They had a thick, firm crust, a dense texture, and were stuffed full of almonds and dried fruit. I particularly liked the pretty bright red bits of cherries, and the thick powdered sugar coating that was both attractive and delicious, making these look like irregularly-shaped doughnut holes. I might actually like these better than full-sized stollen, although I did miss the marzipan that is my favorite part of a traditional stollen loaf. I suppose you could knead in small pieces of marzipan as well? The small size was perfect for a party; each "bite" provided about three mouthfuls of bread. And these tiny breads kept beautifully, with no deterioration in flavor or texture during the week they lasted. I might have to bring them back for next year's menu.

Recipes: "Panforte" and "Stollen Bites" from King Arthur Flour.

Previous Post: "I'm Dreaming of a European Christmas, Part I: Leckerli and Pfeffernüsse," December 30, 2016.