Panpepato - Spiced Italian Christmas Cake Recipe

This is a round, nutty, spicy, chocolately Christmas sweetmeat, or cake, from the green landlocked region of Umbria – there are other adaptations in Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, but the Umbrian version is considered to be the original.

The first written recipe appears around 1800 but it is even older than that, with evidence of it being prepared in the town of Terni in the 16th century at a time when spice traders from the east would be travelling through the region carrying their exotic ingredients and recipes from far flung lands including a spiced bread that was adopted by local bakers.

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Over time, local ingredients like walnuts and citrus fruit were added, and also boiled wine must, or sapa, which is considered to be the secret ingredient for the ultimate success of this speciality – in Terni it is bottled and sold almost specifically for the preparation of Panpepato. 

The preparation of Panpepato, or Pampepato as it is sometimes known, remains rustic and simple but because all the ingredients were so expensive, it was always revered as something very special to be reserved for very special occasions.

Traditionalists in Terni start to make it on the 8th December on the day of the Immaculate Conception and is then eaten for Christmas and then again on Valentine’s Day and finally a couple of spares are kept wrapped up to be and tucked away to be enjoyed at Easter and then again on the 15th August to celebrate Assumption Day.

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Happily, this is a sweetmeat that keeps very well for several months! In 2021 Panpepato was awarded IGP status.

Every household in the area has their own version of Panpepato, and the tradition is to offer it as a gift to friends, family and neighbours, wrapped and always topped with a sprig of mistletoe.

My own version, below, is one I have perfected over many Christmases!

Its name literally translates as Peppered Bread, referring of course to the spices contained within the recipe, which include some freshly ground black pepper.

Boiled wine must - saba - is fermented grape juice, which has been boiled until reduced and sweetened. If it proves hard to find, use very sweet red wine instead.

Panpepato is always allowed to rest for a few days before eating as it hardens over time.

Recipe by Valentina Harris, for Sous Chef


Ingredients for Panpepato Italias Christmas Cake


How to make Panpepato

  1. Blanch all the nuts in hot water for 2 or 3 minutes, and then carefully remove their skins. (I appreciate this is not easy when it comes to the walnuts, but it is worth it – if you consider this to be too much of an effort, then don’t blanch the walnuts but give it a go if you can!)
  2. Once the walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds are all blanched and peeled, chop coarsely.
  3. Pour the honey into a saucepan and add the coffee and the wine must, stir together and warm gently for a few minutes without boiling.
  4. Pre heat the oven to 180 c/350F/Gas Mark 4
  5. Drain and dry the currants or sultanas, then pile on to the tabletop.
  6. Add the chopped candied citrus, the grated orange zest, nutmeg and pepper, pine kernels, nuts, chocolate and cocoa powder and sugar.
  7. Mix all these ingredients together with your hands, gradually adding the warm liquid honey mixture, then gradually adding the flour, until you have achieved manageable dough.  (Add more flour or more wine must as required.)
  8. Shape this mixture into small oval loaf shapes and lay them on a lined baking sheet, previously greased and lightly floured.
  9. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
  10.  

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1 comment

  • For the walnuts – do you mean 750g? 750kg seems a little… excessive. And really annoying to chop ;)

    BadMedisin on

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