Italian Christmas Tradition – Torrone from Cremona
An Italian Christmas Tradition, the Turun or Torrone of Cremona, has conquered the world. Almost every Italian little town has their own recipe as does just about every Southern European town. Yes the Torrone of Cremona, now widely distributed year round in US grocery stores, is an Italian Christmas delight. The origins of Torrone are a bit more confused than the success of the natural candy bar.
The most widely accepted version tells of the master chef of Cremona created this sweet in 1441 on the 25th of October in occasion of the nuptials of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti. A wedding that would bring together the two most powerful families of the known world. That must have been some wedding; the dowry was the City of Cremona. Some say Torrone was created in order to use the egg whites left over after preparing thousand of pastries while others indicate that Turun and Cupedia were versions of the Arab and Roman Empires respectively. Both of these sweets would have origins several hundred years before Christ.
Since I was not around at the time, I will simply narrate what is written and what seems probable. The scribes of the Sforza family indicate that the master chef of Cremona created a compact dessert of almonds, honey and egg whites. The dessert was a sculpture of the Bell Tower of the Duomo of Cremona, said Torrazzo and in those years called Torrione, in English “Really Big Tower.”
Whether Torrone was initially created during the Roman Empire or in occasion of the Sforza wedding, Torrone is synonymous with Cremona. Its production is one of Cremona’s primary industries. The natural goodness of this antique candy has taken over the world. Originally Torrone was rock hard. I mean break your teeth hard and while this original version is not as easy to find, it is the only Torrone for the truly passionate. Today you can find soft Torrone, Chewy Torrone, Torrone covered in Chocolate, Torrone with Hazelnuts or citrus and many other versions.
Until recent years Torrone was available from October through January and associated with Christmas. Today it can be found throughout the year and is a good substitution for the industrial candy bars. That is not to say that this treat does not have a lot of calories, simply that it is an antique recipe and most likely will not rot your teeth, it may break them if you are fortunate to find an original version, but it will not rot them.
The best thing about Torrone is that it is not difficult to make and can be easily adapted to just about any taste.
8 oz. (250 g) Hazelnuts
10 oz. (320 g) Almonds
8 oz. (250 g) Honey
11 oz. (320 g) Sugar
3 egg whites
Grated peel of one orange
1 3/4 oz. (50 g) candied orange peel
2 tbsp Brandy
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
10 Communion wafers (or other thin wafer)
If the almonds still have the skin. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and dry.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the almonds on a baking pan with parchment paper. Toast for 5 minutes. Rub the almonds in a towel, the skins will come off in the towel.
In a double boiler, over medium heat, pour the honey. Let the honey cook for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Place the candied orange peel in a small cup. Add the Brandy and let sit while the honey cooks.
When the honey is blond in color, whip the egg whites to firm peaks. Slowly, add the egg whites to the honey, mixing from bottom to top, never side to side. The honey will swell up and foam.
In a separate pan heat the sugar. When the sugar starts to brown, add the sugar to the honey-egg white mixture, stirring continuously. The mixture will begin to lose volume and become thicker.
To see if the mixture is ready, drop a teaspoon of the mixture into cold water. The cold water will immediately bring it to its consistency. You can verify if it is at the hardness you desire. If you want it harder just continue cooking a bit longer.
Drain the candied orange peel. Add the remaining ingredients, except the wafers, to the mixture. Stir quickly and try to distribute the hard ingredients evenly in the paste.
Place the 1/2 of the wafers on a hard surface, preferably marble or granite. Pour the mixture onto the wafers. Mold the now hardening mixture into a rectangle about 2 inches high. Smooth the top of the mixture and place the remaining wafers. Press gently and allow to cool completely. The Torrone can now be cut into pieces of any size.
Tags: Gourmet Foods Almonds Hazelnuts Holiday Traditions Italian Holidays Italian Recipes Food and Wine Travel Italy