By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
Panpepato means “peppered bread" and is a spicy traditional fruit cake from the beautiful city of Siena. It’s an ancient sweet of Italian gastronomy, made with the most luxurious ingredient available in the thirteenth century—pepper. Today, we eat it during the Christmas holidays.
It is also said that Panpepato played a key role in the legendary 1260 battle of Montaperti.
The Florentine soldiers, weary from their journey, usually ate food poor in calories, whereas the Sienese soldiers always had special cakes in their pockets that gave them the strength and energy necessary to win the battle—like the Elven travel-bread “lembas” from Lord of the Rings!
"Eat little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall Men of Minas Tirith."
—The Fellowship of the Ring, "Farewell to Lorien"
This delicious, dense, dark spiced cake is the direct descendant of medieval sweet breads.
When America was discovered, chocolate was added to this typical Christmas cake. Usually we use dried figs and candied fruit such as orange and citrus zests, but if you like, you can also put candied cherries and pears.
This spicy sweet bread is highly caloric, so we serve it in very thin slices. And it is wonderful with Vinsanto or sweet wines like Passito.
1 cup (100 g) almonds 1 cup (100 g) hazelnuts 1 cup (100 g) walnut kernels
1/2 cup (50 g) pine nuts 1/2 cup (50 g) mixed candied fruit
1/2 cup (50 g) dried figs 1 cup (100 g) raisins 6 oz (150 g) dark chocolate
Orange zest 6 oz (200 g) runny honey
2 tsp cinnamon Dash white flour Dash nutmeg 1 tsp pepper
Boil shelled almonds and hazelnuts for a few minutes. Drain and rub with a cloth to peel.
Soak the raisins in warm water for a few minutes, drain and dry with a cloth.
Mince the walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and chocolate.
Put everything together in a bowl and mix with the minced dried figs and candied fruit.
Add a pinch of nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, the orange zest, and the raisins.
Warm the honey with a little water at low heat in a pan. Bring to a boil and immediately pour into the mixture, melting the chocolate.
Stir with a wooden spoon and slowly add as much flour as needed to obtain a mixture, firm and well blended.
Make 6 loaves and distribute on a sheet pan with baking paper.
Bake at 350°F (180 °C) for about 10 minutes.
Remove the Panpepato from the oven and let it cool before serving.
The Panpepato can be stored in tin boxes for about 2 weeks.
Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), The Grimore, The Magic of the Moon, and Magic Herbs (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).