Crumbly but wonderfully moist, this cake has enough surprises of fruity chocolate, nuts and spice to set it far apart from ordinary Christmas fruit cakes. Taste it at its mellow best by baking the Pampepato a week or more before serving. One loaf could become a holiday house gift, while the other is kept for celebrating Christmas with the family.
Pampepato was created at the Monastery of Corpus Domini during the 15th century. A century later the monastery achieved further distinction by becoming the burial place of one of Ferrara's most illustrious duchesses, Lucrezia Borgia d'Este. Some believe the cake's original name was pan del pape, or bread of the pope, while others say it was pan pepato, or peppered bread.
Pampepato was first cloaked in chocolate in the late 19th century. The crisp coating not only singles out Pampepato from the Christmas cakes of Emilia and Romagna, but also seals the cake, keeping it moist through the entire holiday season. Ferrarese Riccardo Rimondi shared this recipe with me. He tells of Christmas in Ferrara when every pasticceria makes its own Pampepato, packing it in golden cellophane or gilded boxes. On Christmas Eve, every shop has platters of sliced Pampepato. Shoppers are invited to share the Christmas tradition as they collect the last-minute supplies for the next two days of feasting.
Wine: Drink Malvasia dei Lipari from Sicily, or sip a Vin Santo of Tuscany.
Cook's Notes: Ground chocolate: Sold in boxes like cocoa, ground chocolate is sweetened and contains more cocoa butter than cocoa does.
From The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Morrow, 1992). © 1992 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All rights reserved.
"It's a whole lot easier to make your kitchen work for you than against you," says Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. "You're going to reduce how much other stuff you eat, but you're going to be doing it unconsciously." He is the author of Slim by Design.