After the reception, with its magnificent, multitiered cake, wedding favors can seem like an afterthought. But in choosing the favor, you’re choosing how your wedding will be remembered. What do you want to send home with your guests? One thing comes to mind – something unusual and sophisticated.
Not surprisingly, the tradition of wedding favors has an aristocratic pedigree. In medieval Europe, aristocrats were the ones with the means – and the inclination to show it off. Particularly in the aristocratic households of France and Italy, the tradition of bonbonnieres emerged: Guests were given small boxes made of glass, crystal or porcelain, which their hosts filled with costly sugar confections, such as Parisian macarons, as an expression and reminder of their status.
In the world of wedding favors, Italian panforte stands out. Redolent of orange zest, pressed and baked into a thin disk and dusted with powdered sugar and cut into mosaic wedges, the chewy fruit-and-nut cake is superb and the essence of subtle refinement.
As a statement, panforte isn’t just classy, it’s also a shade exotic. Though its roots are deep in medieval Tuscany, it echoes other confection traditions (other, that is, than the fabulous frilly paradigm we inherit from the French). Its closest relatives are in the nougat family. Italian torrone, and Spanish turròn combine almonds (and often pistachios) with beaten egg whites and honey. The gaz (nougat) of Iran adds a distinctive touch of rosewater. An even more common wedding favor in the Middle East is a parcel of five almonds, representing fertility, longevity, wealth, health and happiness. This ancient tradition was the precursor to the candy-coated Jordan Almonds we find at weddings and christenings.
Panforte resembles a familiar British wedding favor: the fruitcake. The idea behind giving fruitcake as a favor was that it would last long enough to be eaten one year later, on the first wedding anniversary. But fruitcake feels stodgy now, something your aunt might foist on you during the holidays. Panforte’s density of nuts and dried fruit may resemble fruitcake, but it is not cakey – and not stodgy.
Making panforte is easier than it was in the Middle Ages, when the fruit had to be pitted and dried, and the sugar chiseled from dense, costly loaves.
•1 cup flour
•1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
•1 teaspoon cinnamon
•1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
•2 1/2 cups whole almonds, toasted
•1/4 cup whole hazelnuts, toasted
•2 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit
(figs, raisins, golden raisins, apricots,
cherries) cut in 1/2-inch pieces
•1 teaspoon orange zest, grated
•3/4 cup sugar
•2/3 cup honey
•Confectioners’ sugar, to dust
Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Line bottom with parchment paper, then grease paper.
In large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add nuts, fruit and orange peel. Set aside.
Combine sugar and honey in small saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for a few minutes, until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (240 F on candy thermometer). Add syrup to flour-nut mixture and stir until all ingredients are well coated and begin to form sticky ball. Mixing with wet hands is helpful. Press ball firmly into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until surface has lost its sheen. Cool completely, preferably overnight.
To serve, remove from pan, dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into thin slices.