I tasted a similar pan forte in Italy a few years ago in a little restaurant in the walled city of San Gimignano and was so enchanted I brought a few wheels home. Rich Melman took one bite and declared this the best thing I had ever made. Oops! I had not made it, but brought it from Italy. I quickly learned how from my friend, California pastry chef, Nancy Silverton, and now my version is on Tru’s menu.
The farmstead cheese, made is Dodgeville, Wisconsin, won Best in Show at the 2001 American Cheese Society Conference – and for good reason. It is dense with only a few gas holes, a smooth but not creamy texture, and a buttery flavor with overtones of clover, wild flowers, and herbs. The cheesemaker makes this from raw cow’s milk from a single herd. Once the cheese is make in a five-pound wheel with a natural rind, its aged for up to six months.
Serves 4 to 6
2 sheets edible rice paper (available at some cake decorating supply stores)
2 3/4 cup whole almonds, skin on and toasted, see Note
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 pound dried fruit, such as raisins, figs, cherries, plums, apricots, currants, or a mixture, cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup honey, preferably organic
1/3 cup water
4 ounces Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese from Upton Farms, at room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
2. Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan and put a piece of rice paper on top of the parchment paper. Center a flan ring measuring 4 inches around and 1 /2 inch deep on the rice paper.
3. In a large bowl, stir together the nuts with the flour, cocoa, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Add the fruit and toss to coat it with the dry ingredients.
4. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, 2 /3 cup of the honey, and water and bring to a boil without stirring. Brush down the sides of the pan occasionally with a dry pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Cook until a candy thermometer registers 240°F, the soft-ball stage. Pour over the fruit mixture and stir quickly to combine. The mixture will be very sticky and thick.
5. Dip your hands in cold water, to prevent burns and sticking, and grab handfuls of the mixture. Pack firmly into the ring so that the mixture reaches the top rim. Bake for about 1 hour or until slightly puffed and the surface no longer looks shiny. Cool the pan forte on a wire rack, still in the ring and on the sheet pan.
6. When cool, cut around the inside of the ring through the rice paper Wrap the entire pan forte in plastic wrap and store at room temperature or serve right away.
7. To serve, put a slice of cheese on a plate. Drizzle with some of the remaining 1 /4 cup of honey. Snuggle a wedge of pan forte next to the cheese. Repeat to make 3 to 5 more servings.
Note: To roast whole almonds, spread them on a baking sheet and roast in a 350°F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the nuts are fragrant and done. Shake the pan 2 or 3 times for even roasting. If all you have is blanched almonds, toast them till they are golden brown, and natural almonds should be light brown all the way through. Cut an almond open to check.