When in Spain, nibble as the Spanish do – that’s my motto. I figure the locals are in the know and I’ve never been proven wrong, my theory has only been validated.
Turrón (Spanish), torró (if you are in Barcelona), or torrone (Italian), also know is nougat is a candy mostly made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts. It looks like this:
Its a popular Christmas dessert, with the wrapping often so pretty, that I am loath to tear into it. (That feeling usually does not last for long.) I’d often wondered why, as good as nougat is, that we cannot get it more readily. For the record, its not limited to these two countries, as can be expected, varieties exist in Latin America and the Philippines. Places where Spain and Italy had colonies and cultural influence. Of course these other regions put their own stamp on this dessert and modified it to local tastes. The addition of chocolate would be a good example.
Legend has it that a master confectioner named Pablo Turrons invented this almond nougat in Barcelona in the 19th century during the Spanish Succession using only what he had available, almonds and honey. Sadly, this was a creative fiction, but thankfully the truth is just as interesting. In reality, all versions of turron have their names traced back to the Latin torrere (to toast). That clears up the name, but the confection itself, owes its existance to the Iberian Muslims who made a similar dessert named turun.
Almond and honey are still the main ingredients for turrón (and for purist, the only ingredients). They also claim only two types of turrón are legit:
soft Jijona turrón (turrón blanco)
hard Alicante turrón (turrón duro)
Jijona and Alicante are towns near Valencia, with Jijona is considered the epicenter of turrón production. It makes sense that these towns are located as they are, as this area produces much of the produces of Spain and that includes many nuts such as the almonds.
The hard version is made by roasting and chopping the almonds and adding them to the honey, which is simmered over constant heat. When the time is right, egg white is added as a binding agent. The the mixture is cooled, cut into pieces and packed. The soft variety takes it a step or so further, the cooled block of turrón is ground with the separated almond oil to form a glutinous paste. It is then reheated and beaten for hours to form a soft white mixture before it to receives a dose of egg whites to bind it all together.
One way it gained such acceptance, was as far back as the 16th century, traveling turrón salesmen made their way around Spain selling their goods. In Madrid, they were only allowed to sell in restricted areas, and the penalty for deviating from this dictate was to have their goods confiscated and given to charitable organizations. For some it might have been worth the risk, but a taste for turrón soon developed that continues to this day. (source: Culinaria Spain, Trutter, 2008, h.f.ullman) This practice continued for centuries, emigrants from Eastern Spain established business in Northern Africa while others moved overseas and helped satisfy many a sweet tooth in the colonies from California to Buenos Aires to Havana and Montevideo.
Adaptations from other countries:
In Peru, the turrón generally is soft and may be flavored with anise.
Traditional Italian torrone comes from Cremona, Lombardy, range widely in texture (morbido, soft and chewy, to duro, hard and brittle) and flavored with the likes of citrus and vanilla, with plenty of options in the nut department: whole hazelnuts, almonds and pistachios or only have nut meal added to the nougat.
In the Philippines, they have their turrones de casuy, produced in the province of Pampanga. It is a bar of marzipan made with cashews, and wrapped in white wafer, or there is the turrones de pili, made using the native pili nut.
A confectionery similar to the hard style of Spanish turrón is made in the Czech Republic called Turecký med “Turkish honey.”
I’ve mostly had the Italian version and now my share of the Spanish, but I am intrigued by the addition of the anise in the Peruvian variety. Any favorites for you?