We added a new item to our repertoire of Italian holiday treats and baked good this year. No, it’s not panettone. We’re just not sure that we can do justice to that tall, leavened Milanese Christmas cake in our home kitchen.
This year, in addition to panpepato, salame al cioccolato and tozzetti, we made torrone, the classic ivory colored, honey flavored, nut filled bar of nougat that graces the Christmas candy and cookie trays of every Italian household this time of year.
They say that torrone was first brought to Italy and the Mediterranean by Arab traders, but there are two versions of how it acquired it’s name. Some maintain that torrone derives from the Latin torrere, which means to toast, in reference to the toasted nuts the candy contains. Others cite the 1441 marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti, daughter of the Duke of Milan, to Francesco Sforza in the city of Cremona, Italy. For that wedding, the city’s pastry chefs created a tower-like “torrone” to resemble Cremona’s bell tower.
In any case, today il torrone is synonymous to Christmas all across Italy. It’s rarely made at home anymore, but artisanal torrone is still found in pastry shops and at holiday markets. Torrone is also produced industrially by Italian companies like Sperlari and Vergani, both located in Cremona, home of the Festa di Torrone. This year, the annual celebration of torrone drew 230,000 people to the town, where they purchased over 80 tons of torrone to bring home to their Christmas tables.
There are two varieties of torrone, morbido (soft) and friabile (hard). We’re of two minds at the Due Spaghetti household; Stefano prefers crisp, hard-candy torrone, while Cara likes the soft type (who wants to loose a tooth, especially right at Christmas!). The difference has to do with the amount of egg white you use and the temperature you to which you bring the sugar/water solution. The recipe below is for torrone morbido. We adapted it from a torrone recipe on one of our favorite Italian language bloggers, Anice & Cannella, who had in in her own right adapted it from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana. That’s how recipes travel, right?
An few important notes before we begin:
- Torrone requires edible wafer paper to keep the candy from sticking to everything it touches. Wafer paper is not the same as sugar paper, which will not work for torrone. Wafer paper can be found through online vendors, or at specialty cake-decorating stores. For those of you following us locally, Lynn’s Cake and Candy Supplies in Fridley, MN carries it.
- A candy thermometer is necessary.
- A kitchen scale is useful, as it is the most precise way to measure ingredients.
- You will need a double boiler (bain-marie) or two saucepans, one slightly larger than the other, which can improvise as one.
Nuts for Roasting
1 kg (2.2 lbs, about 7 cups) raw unsalted almonds
150 g (5 oz, just over 1 cup) hazelnuts
150 g (5 oz, just over 1 cup) shelled pistachios*
*either raw unsalted or roasted, salted pistachios will work fine.
For the Sugar Syrup
100 g (3.5 oz or 5/12 cup) water
300 g (10.5 oz or 1 and 1/3 cup) sugar
For the Meringue
120 g (4 oz, or about 3 eggs’ worth) egg whites
300 g (10.5 oz or just over 3/4 cup) honey
Zest of 3 oranges
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 sheets of wafer paper
Preheat your oven to 120° C, 250° F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper, spread the nuts onto them, and toast for 15 minutes. Allow the toasted nuts to cool.
Measure the egg whites and honey, and set aside so that they are ready when you need them. Prepare an electric hand-mixer so that it too is ready.
Place the sugar into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the water without stirring, position the candy thermometer in the liquid, and place the saucepan on a burner over low heat. Allow the sugar syrup to heat to 140° C, 285° F, still not stirring.
Prepare the double boiler. Add the egg whites and honey. Place over medium heat, and whip with the electric mixer until the mixture pulls away from the sides and forms a stiff meringue. This will take approximately 30-35 minutes. As you are whipping the egg whites, monitor the temperature of the sugar syrup. It should reach temperature about about the same time that the egg whites firm up. Don’t rush the sugar water by turning up the heat, and don’t let it rise above 140° C, 285° F. Pull it off of the heat if you need to.
Cover a baking tray with wax paper or parchment paper, and place one sheet of wafer onto it. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the nougat onto the center of the wafer paper. Spread the nougat evenly over the wafer paper, not quite reaching the edges. Using your hands, pack the nougat together to create a smooth surface on the top and edges. Clean and dry your hands. Place the second sheet of wafer paper on top and carefully press down, taking care not to tear it.
Freeze the sheet of torrone for 30 minutes or longer so that it can more easily be cut into bars. Using a very sharp, serrated knife, first cut away the edges all along the perimeter to create 4 smooth edges, and then cut into bars as long as wide as you desire. We cut our sheet in half lengthwise, and then turned each half and again cut lengthwise into 5 cm.(2 inch) wide bars.
Keep your torrone refrigerated (we keep them in sealed freezer bags) until you are ready to serve. Cut each bar into bite-sized pieces and enjoy.