Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Homemade Lara Bars



Panforte was the medieval travel food of the crusaders. It was a dense, spicy fruitcake that was made to withstand travel and nutritionally very calorie-dense; though "calorie" wasn't a vocab word back then. It was a combination of dried fruit, dried nuts, sometimes a little flour, and spices, lots of spices. If you are lucky, you can sometimes find round disks of this delicious treat in specialty shops around Christmas time. Its sometimes translated into English as "fruit cake" but panforte is dense, chewy and delicious, more like a LaraBar than those holiday bricks filled with florescent cherries.

Most panforte comes from Sienna, in Tuscany, and contains some flour, I decided to modify a friend's homemade LaraBar recipe to see if I could concoct my own. I began with pitted dates, raw almonds, dried apricot past (I found it at the Halal butcher shop) and a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.

The apricot paste was much stiffer and sticker than I expected. Thicker than a fruit roll-up and stickier than honey, it was not easy to tear apart.

I did my best to pull it into chunks and combined it with the 20 oz. of dates and a few cups of almonds.
I added a small amount to the meat grinder, with the largest holes and the whole thing jammed.
I took everything apart and then ran the mixture through without the disk at the end:
After it was basically coarsely chopped, I put the plate back on, added some cinnamon and ground the mixture:
With my hands, I pushed the strands into a uniform paste:
Traditionally, the bars are cut, but this mixture was too sticky, so I lined muffin trays with plastic wrap:
Then I added a ball of the mixture to each plastic wrap square and loosely folded over the edges:
I then covered the muffin tin with another:
Then PRESSED DOWN, gently.
Take out the pucks of deliciousness, flip them over and push again, for an even disk:
Stack them up:
Save them for a rainy day, or a hike, or whatever. They will keep nearly indefinitely.

The flavors were subtle, and next time I will probably add more spices and more almonds to help the whole thing go faster. I am saving a bunch up for airplane snacks.

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