Figs & Bread
I first tasted panficato (fig bread), on Giglio Island, which you can reach by a short ferry ride from Porto Santo Stephano. I was instantly hooked. Panficato is sold in the form of heavy little buns, speckled with fig seeds and sporting smooth, shiny tops, perched with some blanched almonds pushed into the tops for decoration.
One bakery in Giglio’s port, Panficio Di Cristina, proudly displays the speciality’s history on a sign out the front. It claims its origins date to 1544, when the powerful Ottoman admiral, Hayreddin Barbarossa - who is always referred to as a pirate in Italian (his nickname Barbarossa means ‘Red Beard’) - sacked the island and took the inhabitants of Giglio away as slaves. The Medici, the sign continues, later repopulated the island with Sienese who began the tradition of making panficato much like Siena’s panforte, but with the ingredients that were available on the island.
It is quite clear that panficato and Porto Santo Stefano’s pagnotella are related to each other and are connected to Siena’s panforte, a rich, dense treat with medieval roots. With a similar texture, panforte is also made quite simply with whole nuts, plenty of spices, honey and candied fruit (rather than dried fruit), all held together with some flour. Both panficanto and pagnotella are made with fried figs, soaked or cooked in wine (traditionally ansonia wine), mashed or blended into a paste, then mixed with flour, sultanas, cocoa or chocolate, while nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts, honey or homemade jam and spices.