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ues­tion: I would like to make some slightly ex­otic, edi­ble and quaf­fa­ble Christ­mas gifts for my friends. Any sug­ges­tions? t’s not too late to make some de­li­cious and dif­fer­ent Christ­mas gifts that will last into the New Year – if they’re not de­voured be­fore!

A Euro­pean Christ­mas tra­di­tion is to give gifts of spe­cial cakes and con­fec­tionery that can be brought out when guests visit. They tend to be ones that keep well, rather than per­ish­able cakes. Think pf­ef­fer­nusse, the Ger­man ver­sion of our gin­ger­nuts (‘‘peppernuts’’), or bis­cotti or can­tuc­cini, the Ital­ian ver­sions – great dunked in tea or, even bet­ter, in some sweet wine.

Italy has a range of Christ­mas sweets from dif­fer­ent prov­inces. Pan­forte is one that hails from Siena, although the best I have had was in Massa Marit­tima, a tiny town in south­ern Tus­cany. Theirs was a darker va­ri­ety than the more fa­mous Siena ver­sion.

Pan­forte lit­er­ally means ‘‘strong bread’’, but it is a con­fec­tionery rather than a bread or cake, as only a lit­tle flour is added to help bind the fruit and nuts into a chewy, dense slice.


Makes 1 cake (about 40 pieces) Prepa­ra­tion: 10 min­utes Cook­ing: 35 min­utes Pan­forte nero, which has choco­late and pep­per in it, makes a great Christ­mas gift as it lasts well and a lit­tle goes a long way. The use of sweet rice pa­per to pre­vent it stick­ing is very tra­di­tional and also very pretty.

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