On one of my days off this week I found myself wandering into a local cheese shop, Eat! Drink! in Edwards, Colorado.
Working in pastry, the food I crave most after work is salty, savory items. Cheese fits this bill quite nicely. I wanted to have some on hand for eating in the upcoming week.
One perk to being a chef is that people always want you to taste their products, so every time I go into Eat! Drink! the friendly folks there busy themselves cutting away little wedges of new artisan cheeses for me to taste. I can’t complain, its fun.
So on this particular trip, I was rather delighted to learn of Avalanche Cheese Company, based nearby in Basalt, Colorado. Their website is fantastic, and I hope to visit the farm at some point in the future. Cheese-making is a fascinating art. I took home some of their Midnight Blue goat cheese, and was inspired to create some accompaniments for my beautiful purchase.
Recognized as a Christmas recipe, panforte nero is a spicy, dried fruit and nut-studded confection that is stunning on any cheese plate. Its deep brown color contrasts nicely with the soft toned colors of cheese. In addition, panforte nero is more unique than serving simply dried fruit and some toasted nuts. When I put it on the cheese plates at the restaurant, it’s the one item that our customers always comment on.
Traditionally, panforte nero is made using dried figs. I had dried strawberries and apricots on hand, so I opted to use those instead, for a more Spring-inspired flavor. Dried strawberries can be a bit chewy, so I brought some red wine to a simmer and steeped the fruit for about 10 minutes to soften it.
I also made a seeded flatbread to serve with the panforte nero and cheese. Making your own flatbread is quite simple and a rewarding task because you can flavor it to your individual tastes. I like mine with lots of healthy seeds and crunch. It takes about 10 minutes to make, including the rolling time. Living at altitude will ensure that it stays crisp and crunchy for several weeks!
Panforte Nero (adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich)
3 oz dried strawberries
1 cup red wine
2 oz dried apricots
1/2 cup toasted whole almonds
1/2 cup toasted whole hazelnuts
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
Bring the red wine to a simmer, then pour over the dried strawberries and let steep for about 10 minutes, until plumped and softened. Slice the strawberries and dried apricots into 1/4 inch slivers.
In a bowl, combine the nuts, flour, cocoa powder, spices, and sliced fruit. Put the honey and sugar in a small pot and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the flour mixture. Combine everything while the honey syrup is still warm. It will be thick. Press the mixture into a greased and parchment-lined 6-inch cake pan.
Bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes, until the panforte feels slightly firm. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then invert from pan and let cool completely. You can rub some confectioner’s sugar on the top, or leave it plain. To serve, cut into thin wedges.
4 oz all-purpose flour
4 oz whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (for altitudes below or above 8,500 ft, refer to the guidelines section of this site)
3 tablespoons pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 tablespoon flax seed
1/2 tablespoon chia seeds
1 teaspoon Turkish seasoning (if you don’t have this on hand, make your own blend with a little cayenne, salt, pepper, dried oregano, paprika, and cumin)
4 oz of water, maybe slightly more if necessary
1.5 oz olive oil
Additional olive oil and sea salt, optional
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, seeds, and seasoning. Add the water and oil and mix together with your hand. The dough should come together and be moist, but not sticky. If it still on the dry side, add a little more water. Conversely, if you feel it’s too wet, add some more flour.
Break off small portions and roll them as thinly as you can without crushing the seeds. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush a light coating of olive oil on top. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake at 350 F until lightly golden and crisp all the way through. Cool and break into smaller pieces.