A PLATTER OF COOKIES FOR OLD SAINT NICK

Because so many cookies share common ingredients like flour, sugar, and margarine or oil, they need that little something unique to make them stand apart. With a generous measure of creamy pureed walnuts, these delicious cookies offer melt-in-the-mouth soft centers and delightfully crunchy outsides.

But giving them that extra-special touch is black walnut extract, a flavor that makes these cookies an outstanding treat for Old Saint Nick.

I wasn’t able to find black walnut extract at the grocery store but discovered JR Watkins an excellent online source for unique flavoring extracts.

Going to a cookie exchange party or a holiday potluck?  Bring along a batch or two of these little gems and reap the compliments.

OLD SAINT NICK’S WICKED WALNUT COOKIES

Yield: 4 1/2 dozen

2 cups raw walnuts

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 cups organic sugar

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 large)

2/3 cup vegan margarine

1 1/4 teaspoons black walnut extract, maple extract, almond extract, or an extra teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons flaxseeds or ground flaxseed meal

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Chop 1/2 cup of the walnuts into small pieces and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, oats, raisins, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix well. Make sure the raisins are well coated with flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Set aside.
  3. Put the remaining 1 1/2 cups of walnuts in a food processor. Process until they become a creamy walnut butter, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Add the bananas, vegan margarine, black walnut extract, and vanilla extract and process until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough will become quite stiff.
  5. Pour the water and flaxseeds in a blender. Process on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes to form a thick slurry. Stir the slurry into the dough, mixing thoroughly to distribute it evenly.
  6. Roll teaspoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls and place them 1 1/2 inches apart of the prepared baking sheet. Flatten them slightly with your hands or the bottom of a glass and press a piece of the reserved chopped walnuts into the center of each cookie.
  7. Bake for 14 to 18 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom. If the cookies on the top rack need browning, move them to the bottom rack for another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack or plate and let cool completely.

 

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WARM, SWEET, AND SPICY PUNCH FOR HAPPY HOLIDAY TOASTING

Latin-Twist-cover-300Authors' photo

 

As a food blogger, my aim is to share those tasty bites and sips I think you will find as delightful as I do. I recently had the pleasure of meeting two exceptional authors and food bloggers at a presentation at Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles (Melissas.com). Vianney Rodriguez and Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack teamed up to create a true thirst-quencher, Latin Twist, a gorgeous book filled with 97 traditional cocktail recipes from 18 Latin countries plus Spain.

At Melissa’s I was sampling five delicious “mocktails,” that is, the cocktails without alcohol. After tasting Ponche Navideno, I was enthralled with the flavors imparted by the exceptional combination of fruits, some familiar and some exotic. Not only did this festive beverage taste great, but it also emitted irresistibly sweet, spicy, and fruity aromas throughout the room. This was a recipe I knew I must share.

Don’t let the 20 servings discourage you from making this wonderfully satisfying punch. If you’re not serving a large group, you’ll have plenty for a cozy gathering of celebrants to enjoy seconds and thirds. You’ll need a large stockpot, about an 8- to 10-quart size.

PONCHE NAVIDENO

Ponche Navideno(Mexican Christmas Fruit Punch)

 Ponche Navideño is a hot punch served with or without alcohol during the holiday season and most generally during Las Posadas. On those chilly nights this fragrant infusion warms you from the inside out. The intoxicating aroma and perfumed air in your home will certainly entice your guests to give the drink a try. After that, they’re hooked. Brandy or tequila can be added, making it Ponche con Piquete (punch with a sting).

Makes 20 servingsCinnamon sticks

16 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

8 whole cloves

5 long tamarind pods, husk removed, and seededTamarind pods

1/2 pound tejocotes or crab apples, left whole

6 large guavas, peeled and cut into large bite-size chunks

2 red apples (of your choice), peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks

1 pear (of your choice), peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks

2 (4-inch) sugarcane sticks, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 cup pitted prunespiloncillo

1/2 cup dark raisins

1 orange, sliced

8 ounces piloncillo, chopped, or 1 cup dark brown sugar

1 ounce brandy or tequila per cup (optional)

Directions:

Ponche NavidenoPlace the water, cinnamon sticks, cloves, tamarind pods, and tejocotes or crab apples in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. After it starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the tejocotes are soft.

Remove the tejocotes or crab apples from the pot with a slotted spoon, peel, remove hard ends, cut in half, and deseed. Return them to the pot.

Add the guavas, apples, pear, sugarcane, prunes, raisins, orange slices, and piloncillo. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring gently. Discard cinnamon sticks and cloves.

To serve, ladle into coffee cups or mugs, making sure each cup gets some chunks of fruit. If desired, add 1 ounce of brandy or tequila to each cup.

*************************************

The two charming authors generously shared another warm, fruit-filled punch recipe from from Latin Twist that’s typically enjoyed at Christmas. Ponche de Frutas is similar to Ponche Navideno but has a few additional exotic flavors such as coconut, plantain, and a hint of ginger. Both can be sipped and thoroughly enjoyed with or without alcohol.

PONCHE DE FRUTAS

Makes 15 servings

16 cups waterhandful allspice berries

3 cinnamon sticks

4 whole allspice

1-inch piece fresh ginger

5 whole cloves

2 (8-ounce) bags dried fruit mix

1 pineapple, husked, cored, and diced

1/2 medium papaya, diced

4 red apples, diced

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup prunesplantains

1/2 cup raisins

3 plantains, diced

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark rum (optional)

In a large pot, bring the water to a boil with the cinnamon sticks, allspice, ginger, and cloves.

Add dried fruit mix, pineapple, papaya, apples, and coconut. Follow with prunes, raisins, plantains, and sugar. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring gently. When the fruit is cooked and sugar dissolved, remove from the heat and pour in the rum (if using).

Serve hot with some of the diced fruit.

A PANFORTE TO DAZZLE CHOCOLATE LOVERS!

Chocolate Panforte

Panforte

CHOCOLATE PANFORTE

For those unfamiliar with this very special holiday treat, panforte is a divinely rich confection packed with dried fruits, nuts, and spices, baked in a 7-or 8-inch slab, and coated with confectioner’s sugar. The traditional Italian recipe contains glazed fruits, but I much prefer the sweet, tangy flavor dried fruits contribute to the recipe. When chocolate and lots of spice is added to the mixture, each bite becomes pure nirvana, delivering a delicious melt-in-the-mouth medley of fruit, nut, spice, and chocolate flavors all at once. In other words, all those heavenly flavors and textures you could possibly desire in a holiday candy.

This recipe is ideal for plan-ahead kitchen wizards who love to make their cookies and confections well-ahead of the holiday and freeze or refrigerate them. Then, when they need them, they can easily reach into the fridge or freezer and the muss and fuss is well behind.

Chocolate PanforteDuring the autumn season, I make several batches of panforte, wrap them in double layers of plastic wrap, and tuck them into the fridge. Knowing I’ll be entertaining and going to several parties during the holiday season, my early prep serves me quite well.

A homemade panforte also makes an fabulous gift that can be safely shipped to friends and family across the country without spoilage. Once they taste, the lucky recipients will send you messages filled with OMGs!

Panforte

Entertaining at home during the holidays, I like to serve the panforte as an extra treat. Several hours before dessert time, I remove the panforte from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for best flavor. Then, I unwrap a slab and put it on a colorful plate garnished with real or plastic holly. If the panforte is the only dessert, I’ll cut it into thin wedges like a pie. When serving it along with other desserts, I cut it into bite-size pieces, about 1-inch square. Because it’s quite rich, a little goes a long way.

Panforte makes an impressive homemade gift. Before gifting, tie a holiday ribbon over the plastic wrap, make a large bow, and present the panforte with a happy holiday wish. I like to add a touch of holly to the wrapping–it does such a great job of conveying the holiday message and makes an attractive addition to the presentation.

Here’s the process: Line the pie pans with parchment. Roast the nuts. Cut the fruits, Combine the fruits. Add spices and nuts. Make syrup and add to mixture. Spoon and press into parchment-lined pans. Bake. Cool. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Ready to wrap.

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

 

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteCHOCOLATE PANFORTE

Yield: four 8-inch round slabs

Panforte

2 cups pecansChocolate Panforte

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried dried apricots, diced (i used Melissa’s)

1 cup flour (oat, all purpose, or whole wheat pastry flour)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Melissa’s from melissas.com)

Zest of 1 lemon or orange

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmegChocolate Panforte

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Chocolate Syrup

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup agave nectar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into several pieces

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready 2 large rimmed baking sheets and four 8-inch pie pans or cake pans lined with enough parchment to drape generously over the sides. Place 2 pans on each baking sheet. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on one of the baking sheets and toast them in the oven for 9 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a large platter to cool and turn off the oven.

In an extra large bowl, combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and pepper.

When the nuts are cool, add them to the bowl and mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the sugar and agave nectar in a 2 to 3-quart saucepan and mix well. Put the chocolate in a bowl and place it near the stove-top. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 225 degrees F., approximately 5 minutes. This can happen very quickly. Do not stir during the boiling.

Turn off the heat as soon as the mixture reaches 225 degrees F. and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring until the chocolate is completely melted.

Pour the chocolate syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients completely. The mixture quickly becomes quite stiff and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a metal spoon to distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, a heaping spoonful at a time, packing it down before adding another. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely for several hours before removing the panforte slabs from the pans.

Then, carefully, remove the parchment from each slab and dust each heavily with the powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat them completely.

TO SERVE THE PANFORTE, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into very thin wedges or into 1-inch pieces. If not serving right away, double-wrap each panforte in plastic wrap. The panforte will keep for a month or two at room temperature or for 1 year in the refrigerator.

Panforte

A COMPOTE THAT MAKES SWEET MEMORIES!

Pear Walnut Compote/Choco WafersPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Holiday meals, whether at home or at my grandmother’s, always concluded with a small bowl of stewed dried fruits cooked until soft and perfectly sweetened and pleasantly laced with cinnamon. It certainly wasn’t a fancy dessert, and it’s  probably one of the most unpretentious desserts one can offer guests at the end of a special celebration. Yet, the memories continue to bring sweet thoughts. When I close my eyes, I can almost taste those dried prunes, apricots, pears, and raisins and remember fondly the definitive spicy aroma of cinnamon that made me appreciate this simple homespun dessert.

Because the compote was sweet and generously spiced with cinnamon, I remembered this dessert fondly and as a kid, I always looked forward to it. It became one of those tiny little treasures I knew Grandma would bring to the table without fail.

I thought it might be lovely to pass on those memories to others with a compote that’s just as easy to make, but with something special in addition that would elevate it to become a truly elegant treat. So I began with fresh pears and fresh cranberries rather than dried and spiced it with just enough cinnamon to add that nostalgic holiday aroma. But it was still just a simple compote. What else could I do to make it really zing?

Vegan Holidays lowresVoila! Homemade Choco-Wafers turned this delicious, unpretentious compote into an elegant, alluring dessert with a built-in convenience factor. These delicious little wafers can be made several days ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. They actually keep well for up to three months in the fridge. I might also mention this is one of the delicious holiday desserts in my Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook!

The compote can be prepared two days ahead and tucked into the fridge until dessert time. But, to make this dessert extra special and give your guests that pampered feeling, bring it to room temperature on serving day and gently warm it at 350 degrees F. for about 10 to 15 minutes just before serving.

At serving time, spoon the compote into little dessert dishes and tuck two Homemade Choco-Wafers into the dish so they stand tall. Sometimes I place the wafers on the sides and sometimes in the center. Maybe you’ll come up with an even more dramatic way of presenting this dessert–there’s plenty of room for creativity!

Pear & Walnut Compote:Choco Wafers2 copyPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Yield: about 6 servings

Choco-Wafers

1 cup walnutsPear Walnut Compote/Choco Wafers

1 cup pitted dates, snipped in half

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons golden raisins

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Compote

2 fresh Anjou or Bosc pears, cored, quartered, and sliced

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/3 cup black raisins

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons coarsely ground toasted, walnut, almonds, or hazelnuts, for garnish

  1. TO MAKE THE CHOCO-WAFERS, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 17 1/2 x 12 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Put all the wafer ingredients in a food processor. Process until all the ingredients are well incorporated, the nuts are broken down to a fine, but slightly textured meal, and the mixture reaches a very thick, finely mashed, firm consistency, stopping occasionally to scrape down the workbowl.
  3. Spoon the wafer mixture into the prepared baking sheet and use the back of the spoon to form it into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle approximately 8 inches by 9 inches.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the wafer is set and almost dry to the touch but still soft. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. It will firm as it cools. When cool, cut into 2 or 3-inch squares and set aside until ready to serve or put the squares in a ziplock bag and refrigerate.
  5. TO MAKE THE COMPOTE, combine the pears, cranberries, brown sugar, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, and water in a 3 or 4-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately, decrease the heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes, or until the pears are softened.
  6. To thicken the juice in the pan, combine the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water in a small cup or bowl and stir until smooth. Stir the paste into the simmering compote a little at a time, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, or until thickened to desired consistency.
  7. To serve, spoon the compote into small dessert dishes and garnish each with the walnuts, if desired. Tuck 2 wafers into the center or sides of the compote.

Vegan Porcupine For Dessert. Yum!

Polenta PorcupinePOLENTA PORCUPINE PIE

I’ve only encountered polenta in a savory form, usually served as a side dish. But I often wondered if it would be possible to turn it into a delicious, gluten-free dessert. And with the wonderful array of freshly dried fruits available throughout the season, I began to ponder how I could incorporate the two ideas–polenta and dried fruits.

Well, the best way to bring an idea into fruition is to just plunge in when the opportunity of time and need arises, and indeed it did.

When a friend invited me for dinner and asked me to bring dessert, she created that perfect momentum for a wildly  new experiment. I decided to make the dessert polenta with the dried fruits I had on hand. For color, I tossed in some carrots that I shredded on the coarse side of the grater. And for texture, I thought pine nuts might be a nice contribution.

To sweeten this little gem I prepared a simple date paste in the food processor. And to make the polenta a little more like a holiday dessert, I added cinnamon, cardamom, and a touch of cloves.

Porcupine moldAfter combining all the ingredients, I pressed the mixture into a large, shallow jello mold about 10 inches in diameter and spread it to the edges to avoid any holes and air spaces. Then I chilled it in the fridge and began to think about how I would garnish it. At that point, the porcupine idea hadn’t occurred.

Shortly before leaving for my friend’s house, I unmolded the polenta onto a huge platter that would fit the mold. I stared at it for a few minutes, pondering some sort of topping to bring it to life. And then that magic aha bell went off and I reached for the almonds.

I poked in a few of the almonds–it didn’t look like much, so I kept going until it took on that finished appearance. Don’t ask how I knew it was finished–I think we kitchen elves just know when something looks pleasing to the eye. The final touch was a flower or two from the garden and then, it was done!

It was a delicious surprise that also looked wonderfully enticing. When my friend asked what to call this dessert, I hesitated only a moment–and out popped the amusing name. Because of the bounty of fruits, small servings make this dessert go a long way. I cut the “pie” into thin wedges and on that day I squeezed 16 servings out of it.

Polenta PorcupinePOLENTA PORCUPINE PIE

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Fruit Mix

1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded

3/4 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup black raisins

1/3 cup diced dried Turkish apricots

1/4 cup pine nuts

Date Paste

2 cups pitted dates, snipped in half and lightly packed

1/2 cup water

Polenta

4 cups water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarse whole grain cornmeal

 

1/2 cup whole almonds

  1. Line a large, shallow mold, about 9 to 11 inches in diameter, or a 2-quart ring mold with plastic wrap large enough to drape over the sides and set aside.
  2. To make the fruit mix, combine the carrots, golden and black raisins, apricots, and pine nuts in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. TO MAKE THE DATE PASTE, put the dates in a food processor. With the machine running, add the water and process until smooth. Stop the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the workbowl. Measure 1 cup of the date paste and set it aside for the recipe. Save the remainder for another use.
  4. TO MAKE THE POLENTA, put the water, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and salt in a 4-quart saucepan. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  5. Add the cornmeal and return the mixture to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add the reserved date paste and mix well with a wooden spoon to incorporate it thoroughly. The mixture will become very thick.
  7. Add the fruit mixture a little at a time, stirring continuously, until well mixed.
  8. Working quickly, spoon the mixture into the prepared mold and spread it to the edges. Let cool completely and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
  9. Before serving, invert the polenta mixture onto a large platter and remove the plastic wrap. Poke the tips of the almonds into the top surface, gently pressing them in just enough to secure them.

Note:

Commercially packaged pitted dates, may contain one or two date pits that have evaded the pitting machinery. To avoid damaging the food processor blade, use a kitchen scissors to snip the dates in half before adding them to the processor. The date paste makes about 1 1/3 cups.

Ask Santa for Some Delicious Panforte for Christmas!

SANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

Panforte giftsPanforte, pronounced pan for tay with an accent on the for, is an outrageously, delicious sweet and spicy fruit and nut confection that’s perfect for sharing any time of year, but it’s especially meaningful during the holiday season. Panforte originated in Italy where it became a Christmas tradition with a surprisingly long history.

Panforte in Italian means strong bread, but it isn’t bread at all–it’s actually an alluring Christmas confection with stunning eye appeal that matches its irresistible cinnamon-spiced Vegan Holidays highressweetness. Because of its seductive ability to bring extreme happiness to anyone who tastes its “nectar,” panforte seemed like a perfect addition to the Christmas chapter of Vegan for the Holidays.

Panforte, sometimes called Siena Cake, originated in the city of Siena, in the Northern Italian region known as Tuscany. Some consider Panforte a cross between fruitcake and confection. This heavenly sweet treat has been a long-standing holiday tradition in Italy that may date back to the 13th century. Originally it was made for Christmas but is now available year round.

TLC FOR SANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

If you decide not to eat the confection right away, wrap it well and store it in the refrigerator. You can easily keep it up to one year in the fridge, if you choose. For best flavor and ease of cutting into serving pieces, it’s best to bring it to room temperature before serving. At room temperature, the confection will keep for several weeks, if well wrapped. In time, though, it will become very dry and difficult to chew, so it’s best to keep it refrigerated until ready to enjoy.

Panforte dusted & unwrappedTo serve the Panforte, cut it into thin wedges or into one-inch cubes. Be sure to use a very firm, heavy-duty knife because you’ll need to apply more than a little elbow grease to cut through the firm texture.

Panforte is so special it makes a Panforte cut in piecesmuch appreciated holiday gift, too. Each recipe makes four delicious panfortes that can be prepared weeks or even months in advance, double-wrapped in plastic film, and stored in the refrigerator.

If ever there was an exceptional homemade gift to give at holiday time, it’s panforte, a confection that has won over anyone who has tasted its ambrosial sweetness. To make the panforte gift-ready, wrap each one in holiday ribbon and tuck a cluster of real or plastic holly into the center.

Santa's Favorite Panforte copySANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

Baked into slabs, dusted with powdered sugar, and cut into bite-sized chunks or thin wedges, these crunchy, chewy nut-and-fruit-filled nuggets make joyful treats for gifting. For convenience, keep the Panforte well wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until you’re ready to box it, wrap it, or ship it across the country. While panforte keeps at room temperature for several weeks, it just might attract ants or other critters that will think they’ve discovered sweet nirvana.

Important!: You’ll need a candy thermometer for preparing the syrup.

Yield: Makes about 20 servings

PanforteSanta's Favorite Panforte copy

2 cups pecans

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried apricots (preferably Turkish), diced

1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

2 tablespoons plus 1 12 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

Syrup

1 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1 cup powdered sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line four 8-inch metal or aluminum foil pie pans, or 7-inch cake pans with enough parchment paper to drape over the sides
  2. TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast them for 8 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to Panforte gift wrapped 3a large platter to cool and decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  3. Combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, and cinnamon in an extra-large bowl. Add the cooled nuts and toss well to coat all the ingredients. Set aside.
  4. TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the agave nectar and organic sugar in a 2-quart saucepan and mix well. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 230 degrees F., about 5 minutes. (this can happen very quickly.) Do not stir.
  5. Immediately pour the syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients well. The mixture quickly becomes extremely stiff, and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture thoroughly.
  6. Distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, placing one spoonful of the mixture in the pan at a time and packing it down before adding another. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the pans. Carefully remove the parchment paper from each slab and dust each one heavily with powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat it completely. After dusting, wrap the panforte until ready to serve or gift-wrap.
  7. To serve, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into 1-inch pieces or slice into thin wedges. Wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap at room temperature, Santa’s Favorite Panforte will keep for 3 months, or for 1 year in the refrigerator.