Il Panforte di Siena
“Panforte” is one of the most ancient and typical cakes of our peninsula. Its origins date back to the Middle Ages and is part of the riotous history of Siena. Its precursor was the “Pane Melatas”, a kind of bread made with salt, water and figs, grapes and honey, which, rich and tasty when fresh became acid and rather sour as time passed rendering it spicy hence the name “Panis Fortis” or Panforte. The first official document in which the “panes melati et pepati” is mentioned is a parchment at the State Archives of Siena of 7th February 1205 where the product is included amongst the presents that servants and share-croppers were obliged to take to the nuns of the Abbey of Montecelso, a locality in the province of Siena. “Panforte di Siena” is also mentioned around 1280 in the statute of the Bakers Guild but it is in the 15th century that it reached its fame. From many documents of that time, its presence can be found on the menu of sumptuous banquets given by rich lords in every part of Italy and also abroad. In a document dated 1383, in the archives of Genoa, “Panforte di Siena” is indicated as one of the most famous cakes in Italy. In 1400, in Venice the classic panforte used to be eaten on the most important festivities. At least until 1599, this cake was produced exclusively by the “Speziali” (chemists), who were only 12 in the city at that time. A 1700 parchment, however, states that a great deal of mastery was needed to produce this sweet: in fact, as well as the 17 noble ingredients (as many as the contradas of Palio horse race of Siena), the “panfortai” had to add “honesty, skill, love for good things, temperance” in its production. At about the beginning of the 19th century, the production of “Panforte” was moved from pharmacies to the first factories in Siena. White panforte has a precise date of birth, 1879, when, in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy’s visit to Siena on the occasion of the Palio horse race in August, the cake was made for the first time with less spice and an icing sugar coating and was renamed “Panforte Margherita”. Its immediate success ensured its undisputed fame, under the name of “Panforte Bianco” (White Panforte), in order to distinguish it from the traditional one or the “Panforte Nero” (Dark Panforte). “Panforte” is still produced in Siena by various industrial and artisan producers who, in order to protect the origins and traditional method of production have created a Committee and asked and obtained the “IGP” (PGI) acknowledgement from the European Union in May 2013.
I Ricciarelli di Siena
The origin of the name “Ricciarelli” is uncertain. A legend has it that it is linked to a nobleman Ricciardetto della Gherardesca who brought the recipe with him on his return from the Crusades. According to others, the word “Ricciarelli” is due to their lightly crinkled form.
It is however, without doubt, that they come directly from the much acclaimed “marzipan” and the appreciated “marzi panetti” of Sienese usage which, as from 1400, had been extremely popular and present on the most sumptuous tables in Italy and France.
This is found in the documents which testify the predominance of the Sienese marzipans at the various wedding banquets such as that of Caterina Sforza and Giordano Riario (1447), Costanzo Sforza and Camilla d’Aragona (1475) or at representative banquets such as that of Cardinal Borghese and the Duke of Feria in visit to the Pope (1477). In the archives of the Estensi family, the Sienese marzipans were often mentioned with great praise in 15th century documents.
Made of a mixture almonds, sugar and honey, finely refined and worked together with egg whites to form a very soft and aromatic dough make the “ricciarelli” distinctly different from the normal marzipans. Once baked, they are then dusted with a layer of icing sugar. The shape, the extreme softness and their delicate taste make them a highly successful product.
After a procedure which lasted a few years, the Sienese producers, who formed a Committee, obtained the “IGP” (PGI) acknowledgement from the EU for the “Ricciarelli di Siena” in 2010, the first Italian confectionary product to obtain this important acknowledgement.