Every year around holiday time, I get to pick out some excellent cakes and sweets for our shelves. There are some perennial favorites that are eagerly anticipated every winter, but I’m always on the lookout for interesting new finds. We have a few of each this Christmas, and they’re great for warming your hearth and home this holiday season.
Although we sell wonderful locally made panforte by Napa Cakes (more on that below), we thought it would be fun to include more panforte from its birthplace in Tuscany, so we introduced Pasticceria Sinatti Panforte Margherita. Panforte is a specialty of the southern Tuscan city of Siena, where Italians have been making it since the 13th Century. It is a flat, dense, round cake made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied citron, citrus peel, cocoa, and spices. It contains a very small amount of flour, just enough to hold the cake together. After baking, panforte becomes firm and chewy. Sinatti’s panforte is sold in slices in Sienese bakeries and coffee houses. The Panforte Margherita is a traditional panforte made with nuts and candied fruit.
While the Panforte Margherita is fantastic, there’s a reason that we’re still stocking the Panforte by Napa Cakes. This local spin on the classic is an artisanal panforte that is handmade to order by Marge Caldwell in Napa Valley. It’s densely rich and chewy, made with organic raisins, almonds and hazelnuts from California. It’s excellent when paired with dessert wines and perfect on a cheese plate.
Robert Lambert is a local producer whose products we stock year round, but he also provides us with excellent cakes especially for the holiday season. He’ll tell you that his Robert Lambert Dark Fruit Cake & White Fruit Cake are the best of their kind, and while he might be a little biased, we happen to agree with him. Robert’s White Fruit Cake, a slight improvement over his grandmother’s recipe, is a lovely blend of fine Brazil nuts, local pecans and whole blanched toasted almonds. Deeply ripe oranges from DeSantis Farms are squeezed for juice just before being added. Robert uses his own candied young ginger along with candied bergamot, Rangpur lime, Meyer lemon and blood orange peels. Each cake is soaked in the finest French cognac, topped with a California bay leaf and candied white grapefruit peel star. His Dark Fruit Cake includes a blend of holiday spices, 10-year-old Ficklin port, local nuts, oranges from DeSantis Farms, dried fruits, black figs soaked in Pear William eau de vie, and Kadrawi dates from Flying Disc Ranch. Robert also includes his rare candied Texas lemon and Buddha’s hand citron, bergamot, blood orange and white grapefruit peels, and candied young ginger. Each cake is soaked in Jack Daniels bourbon whiskey, topped with California bay leaf and candied blood orange peel star.
Another great option for holiday sweets are the Lebkuchen by Lecker Lee. Sandy Lecker Lee makes traditional German rich spiced treats that are a cross between a cookie and a cake. Lebkucken is a traditional German gingerbread that dates back to the Middle Ages. The cookie is made of 40% almonds and hazelnuts, with Sandy adding honey, candied citron and orange peel. These classic tins contain cookies lightly brushed with powdered sugar glaze; packaged in beautiful, highly decorative tins, they make excellent gifts.
For a more modestly apportioned treat, we’re very fond of Claire Keane’s San Francisco-made Claire Squares. Her Christmas offerings on our shelves include Brandy Butter, a wonderful Irish dessert topping traditionally eaten with bread pudding or fruit cake (like the Lambert cakes mentioned above. It’s made with just cognac, butter, sugar and salt. We’re also selling Claire’s Plum Pudding, a traditional Christmas treat made up of a medley of dried fruits soaked in Irish whiskey with spices, butter, and molasses and then aged for three months.
And finally, for one last holiday treat, we’re stocking a traditional winter delicacy, Marrons Glaces. Chestnuts are candied in hot vanilla-flavored sugar syrup and then glazed. The ones on our shelves are from Corsiglia, the premier Marrons Glaces manufacturer in France.
Our shelves are packed full of these beautiful holiday treats, so please come by our Markets to take a look. You can also order lots of these and other exceptional gift items online for pickup. They’re a feast for the eyes and a treat for the palate, well worth a look and a taste. Wrap it all up in a reusable Bi-Rite tote bag, made from repurposed organic cotton.