Hidden treasures

How was Siena's panforte created?

Local Traditions
Panforte-Siena

How was Siena's panforte created?

You all know how tasty panforte is and probably also that that it is one of Siena’s icons. What you may not know is the story behind the origin of this cake. We must go as far back as the 10th century when, with water, flour, honey and fruit, folks used to make a sort of sweet focaccia called 'panmelato'. With the summer heat, the cake dried and moldered, acquiring a rather sour taste. Since acid in Latin translates as 'fortis' the cake was called panforte.

In 1200 the cake underwent a small transformation: the flour and honey remained but the fruit was taken out. In its place dried figs, jam, pine nuts and above all pepper were added. At the time pepper was a sought-after, but difficult to get hold of, spice. For this reason, the dessert, which was then called 'panpepato' (peppered bread), was considered extremely delicious and was consumed only by the clergy and the richest families. It was made mostly by spice sellers and nuns and friars who, being the pharmacists of the day, were the only ones who could afford its pricey spices.

In 1887, during the visit of Queen Margherita and King Umberto of Savoy to Siena, some spice sellers decided to make a white version of panforte for the occasion. A dough of lightly colored candied fruits was used and sprinkled with a layer of icing sugar. It was called Panforte Margherita in honor of the queen and eventually became the best-known version of this dessert.

One last curiosity! Do you know that legend has it that the Sienese managed to defeat the Florentines in the battle of Monteaperti thanks to the invigorating power of panforte? It is said, in fact, that they ate it before going into battle and this made them stronger. We bet you now feel like tucking into a slice of panforte ... well we have a solution for you! Book our tour 'Your own Siena' and after discovering the treasures of this wonderful city, let your guide take you to a pastry shop. It is said that a bite of panforte tells the story of Siena better than any book: try it and let us know.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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