Tracing back to 1369, Valentina is the youngest member of a long line of Anglo-Italian gourmets. She shares two desserts recipes that will wow your whole family.

Panforte desserts

Tuscan candied fruit and nut hard cake

Panforte is an old-fashioned sweetmeat, which dates back to the Renaissance and was reputedly first created in Siena. It is widely available to buy ready-made in all Italian desserts stores. Making it at home is a sticky but enjoyable process, and the end result, although a lot less perfect-looking than the ready-made version, tastes absolutely wonderful. You can normally buy the edible rice paper from good confectioners and many supermarkets, but otherwise simply line the baking tin with baking parchment and then remove it before eating the cake. Serve the flat, shallow cake sliced into thin strips. It is especially delicious with some black coffee or dessert wine.

Makes one cake

Rice paper

200g unblanched almonds

225g mixed candied peel, chopped

50g crystallised orange peel

130g shelled walnuts

200g plain flour

5ml ground cinnamon

2.5ml ground allspice

2.5ml ground coriander

350g caster sugar

30ml clear honey

15ml each ground cinnamon and icing sugar, sifted together, for dusting

And now for the fun part…

  • Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2 and line a 25cm/10in a round shallow cake tin or pan with rice paper or baking parchment.
  • Blanch 150g/5oz almonds by soaking them in hot water for about 1 minute, then removing the skins. Lay the almonds out on a baking sheet and toast them under a hot grill, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until golden. Chop them coarsely.
  • Put the chopped almonds into a food processor or blender with the chopped peel, the crystallised orange peel and the walnuts. Whiz until it forms a rough mass. (Alternatively, chop very finely using a sharp knife.) Put the mixture on to a work surface.
  • Combine the nut and peel mixture with the remaining unblanched almonds and the flour and spices.
  • In a small pan, melt the sugar and honey together and boil until it reaches the ‘soft ball stage’ (119°C/238°F – see Cook’s Tip).
  • Pour the hot sugar and honey mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well with a spatula and, when cooler, using your hands.
  • Press the mixture into the tin and level the surface using a spatula. Bake the panforte in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden.
  • Remove from the oven and on a wire rack. Dust with the icing sugar and cinnamon mixture. Store it in an airtight container – it will keep for up to 1 year.

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