Why do we eat torrone only during the holidays? Italians love the sticky, marbled crunch – or the sensual softness – of torrone, Italian nougat. Unfortunately it’s customarily only eaten during the holiday season. Whether studded with almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios; plain or chocolate-dipped, torrone is an irresistible Italian Christmas confection.
Typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, Italian nougat is usually shaped into a rectangular tablet and flattened between two sheets of edible paper wafer. Its origins are shrouded in mystery.
Torrone is said to have made its first appearance in the northern Italian city of Cremona (Lombardy) on October 25, 1441 at the wedding banquet of Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, with Bianca Maria Visconti. Another theory is that the confection may have derived from a Muslim recipe typical of Islamic Spain. The name of this preparation was turun. Spaniards share Italy’s same tradition of eating the treat strictly during the holiday season. Another theory points to a similar confection that was common in Ancient Rome and described by poets as cupedia.
Whatever the origin, Italians traditionally eat torrone only during the holiday season along with panettone and other classic Christmas-time sweets at the end of the meal. Torrone is typically made in various parts of Italy. The most famous hail from Cremona, from Alba in Piedmont, from Siena in Tuscany, and from Benevento (Campania) in addition to variations made in Sicily and Sardinia. Other types of torrone are found throughout Spain, Portugal, several regions of the northern Mediterranean, and something similar is also made in the Philippines.
Commercial versions are dipped in chocolate, but purists only consider true torrone in its crumbly or chewy cream white or ivory variants, studded with assorted nuts. Making it at home is fairly easy. The prerequisites are nimble timing skills and 2 baking thermometers to check honey and syrup temperatures, a crucial element to a successful outcome. Here’s the recipe.
150 g (1 ⅓ cup) hazelnuts, peeled
150 g (1 ⅓ cup) almonds
150 g (1 ⅓ cup) your choice in peeled walnuts, pistachios, cashews…
150 ml (5 fl oz) water
240 g (8.5 oz) granulated sugar
160 g (5.6 oz) mild honey
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 vanilla pod
Edible wafer paper, enough for 2 layers in the pan
Line the bottom and sides of a metal baking pan with either parchment paper or, preferably, edible wafer paper. Keep another sheet handy.
With an electric beater or a stand mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff white peaks form. Now the tricky part. You’ll have to heat two separate elements at once. When they reach the desired temperature (see below), ideally simultaneously, you’ll have to rush to mix everything together quickly.
In a medium saucepan, mix sugar and water, then heat on medium heat until the syrup reaches 144° C / 290° F.
While you wait for the syrup to warm, in another larger saucepan in bain-marie (double boiler), heat the honey and the whole vanilla pod to reach 121° C / 250° F.
Lightly roast the nuts in a warm oven for approximately 8 minutes, until shiny and fragrant. They should not be too dark.
When both honey and syrup temperatures hit their mark, start folding the egg whites into the hot honey, then stir in the hot syrup. Continue cooking on very low and mixing well with a wooden spoon, adding in the warm roasted nuts as you go. The torrone mix will be sticky and will start coming off the sides of the pot.
Pour the mixture in the prepared pan, level using a spatula and cover with the second sheet of edible wafer paper, pressing down to flatten.
Let it stand in a dark, dry place for a couple of hours. Trim into desired shapes and lengths with a sharp, heavy knife. To harden it further, store it sliced in the fridge.
Images © thevintagemixer.com ~ Eleonora Baldwin ~ epicurious.com
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.