When you think of sweet and delicious Italian Christmas treats, torrone ranks up there as a favorite! Torrone or nougat is a confectionery that is typically made with egg whites, honey, and nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts. It seems that the name gets its origin from the Latin word “torrere” meaning “to toast”. Although enjoyed at Christmas time throughout many areas of Italy, this traditional candy is also found in Spain and France.
Of course, as with any specialty food such as torrone, it is difficult to know for sure the origin. Back in 116 BC, during the Roman Empire, Marco Terenzio Marrone wrote about “Cupeto” or “Cuppedo” which was similar to torrone as we know it. Then later in the 4th or 5th century AD, reference is made to a sweet containing egg whites, almonds and honey in one of the oldest known recipe books, “De re culinaria”. Still others believe that torrone came from the Middle East as the Arabs spoke of a sweet named “turun”.
In Italy it is believed that the legend of torrone all began on October 25, 1441 in Cremona, Italy when Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza, whom eventually became the Duke and Duchess of Milan, were married. The attending pastry chefs made a sweet to resemble the tower belonging to the town named “Torrazo”.
And the rest is history as they say. All we know is thank goodness torrone was born!
Torrone comes in very hard or soft versions. Some contain just nuts while others have candied fruit or chocolate. Typically, you will find torrone cut into long sticks but nowadays they also commonly come in packages of individually wrapped pieces. A great gift for the holidays which is the equivalent of giving a box of chocolates in North America.
Did you know that Cremona holds a Festival of Torrone annually in November? Tens of thousands of visitors attend and can sample several varieties of torrone, enjoy a parade with historic characters and watch the wedding of Bianca and Francesco reenacted.
Other areas of Italy known for their torrone versions include, Benevento, Sicily, Sardinia and Calabria. Which version does your family like best?
Making your own torrone is not difficult but does take some elbow grease – completely worth it though!
This is one of many traditional Italian recipes from our book, ‘Nonna’s Way, A Collection of Classic Italian Cookie Recipes’.
- edible wafer paper
- 3 extra large egg whites
- 500 g fruit sugar
- 500 g white honey
- 2 packages vanilla powder
- (see page 11)
- 6 cups (1500 mL, 900 g)
- whole almonds
- (roasted, skins on)
- 3 ⅓ cups (830 mL, 500 g)
- whole hazelnuts
- (roasted, skins off)
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) almond or
- hazelnut flavoured liqueur
- Line a 9-inch by 15-inch pan, at least 1-inch deep, with parchment
- paper so that it is a tight fi t on the bottom and sides with a slight
- overhang on all sides. On top of the parchment paper, place edible
- wafer paper to fi t the exact dimensions of the pan. Overlap edges
- slightly if using more than one piece.
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites for about 10
- minutes until very stiff peaks form. Add ⅓ of the sugar at a time and
- continue to beat between additions until sugar is dissolved. Beat for
- at least 2 minutes. Add the honey and vanilla powder. Combine first
- with a wooden spoon and then beat with an electric mixer until well
- mixed. At this point the mixture should be very shiny.
- Transfer to a large heavy-bottom pot. Start cooking over medium
- heat and once it starts to bubble reduce to low heat and cook, stirring
- constantly, for 30 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to stir as a spatula
- will not be strong enough. After 30 minutes the mixture is very smooth
- and glossy and becomes fragrant.
- Add the almonds and hazelnuts and cook while stirring continuously
- for another 45-60 minutes. The mixture should come away from the
- sides of the pan to form one big ball and will turn ivory in colour. You
- will notice the mixture moves as one. It should be tacky and sticky like
- toffee. If using liqueur, add it during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
- Working quickly, and using lightly buttered large stainless steel
- spoons, spread the mixture onto the wafer paper lined pan. Smooth
- and even out the surface then cover with a layer of wafer paper. Place
- a piece of parchment paper on top and use a rolling pin to smooth out
- the surface. Place a clean tea towel over the parchment paper and
- place a similar size pan on top with a heavy weight on it that is evenly
- distributed such as a case of water or a bag of flour. Let cool like
- this for about an hour. Remove the weight, tea towel, and parchment
- paper and with a large sharp knife cut into equal strips.
- You can use amber honey but the torrone will be darker in colour. Once prepared and cut
- into strips, torrone can be stored in the freezer for quite a long period. Wrap it in parchment
- paper, then foil wrap and place in food safe freezer bags.