|Torrone with dried cherries, almonds and pistachios. Sweets for grown ups|
Torrone is Italian nougat. It's usually sold at festas, and at Christmas we always get some. Usually it's of the rock hard variety (I get the impression this is easier to make as the softer one - which I thought of as the ultimate luxury as a child - is much harder to find and more expensive). Sometimes it's covered in chocolate and sometimes it's pantorrone which is torrone with a booze-soaked sponge that runs through it, covered in chocolate.
The only person I know who ever made their own torrone was my uncle Bruno, but he died some years ago, so I couldn't ask him. I knew it was fiendishly difficult.
I was not proved wrong.
Actually I don't want to scare you. It's not that it's difficult, difficult. But it's a lot about technique and temperature and there's no correcting it if you get it wrong. My heart was beating really fast when I made it and I think I probably shortened my life by six months.
Please do not try to make it if you're in a rush or you have young children running round the house.
Don't make it if you haven't got the right ingredients or utensils. You really need a sugar thermometer for example.
You heat the mixture up to 130C and you have minutes to make it once it's at temperature. You really need to have all your equipment near to you (I actually moved my Kenwood Chef out of its specially built cubby hole next to my cooker and I strongly suggest you have your mixer next to your hob, too).
I wouldn't try to make this without a freestanding mixer.
And as I said, no small children that only you are in charge of; getting 130C sugar solution on skin is not a joke. I know, I've done it (when I made toffee apples one year) and the burn was ferocious.
So now that I've scared you stupid, here's the good bit. If you get it right - and you will - it's glorious. It looks lovely and it's pretty much all over in half an hour.
I got this recipe from the Donna Hay (I LOVE HER) magazine Dec/Jan2012 magazine, however I can't find it on line so I can't link to it. Which is a shame cos the pictures are GORGEOUS. If you have an iPad, do get the app (which is currently free). I've adapted it slightly in that I added the nuts and dried fruits I wanted to add. Basically once you've got the nougat done (and I wouldn't mess with that part of it) you can add any nuts/dried fruits you want up to a point. You don't want to overload the mixture. I'd say 400g total of nuts/dried fruits is probably the limit. I used about 200g and could easily have had more.
You need 2 x sheets of confectionery rice paper (I got mine from Amazon; Lakeland also sells it as does the Jane Asher on line shop. You may be able to get it locally, I couldn't).
550g caster sugar
350g liquid glucose
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 eggwhites, at room temperature
100g butter, softened - mine was melted but cooled
then whatever nuts/dried fruits you want. I used about 160g almonds and pistachios and 60g dried cherries. Hazelnuts would also be lovely I think. Toast the nuts gently first.
A word about liquid glucose. You can buy it in small tubes/tubs from the supermarket. Your chemist may be able to sell you culinary grade liquid glucose in bigger quantities. I buy mine from Jayson's Pharmacy. JM Loveridge also sells it (and in fact the one I got from Jayson's was marked Loveridge) but I couldn't work out how to buy it on site and was in a rush.
You need to line the base of a 20cm square tin with the rice paper. My rice paper wasn't big enough so I overlaid another sheet to fill the gap. Keep the other sheet for the top.
Now, place the sugar, glucose, honey and vanilla in a saucepan with a handle. Very important this, as you'll need to use just one hand to eventually pour the ingredients into the mixer bowl.
Over a low heat, let it all dissolve. Stir until this happens. Once the mixture starts to boil, put in a sugar thermometer and watch the temperature rise as it heats. You need to watch it. Don't wander off. Donna Hay says that once it gets to about 110C put the egg whites in the free standing mixer and start whisking until stiff peaks form. I found that by doing this (my mixer was right next to me by the hob, have I mentioned) I had plenty of time.
You'll find the temperature goes up in leaps, then seems to stagnate (you may need to gently increase the heat but keep watching it), then jumps up again. Once it's at 130 you are green for go.
With the mixer beating (I had mine on medium speed), pour the molten sugar mixture very slowly into the egg whites. The idea is that it you cook the egg whites with the sugar mixture. A slow, steady, thin stream is what you're looking for. Beating continuously all the time. Don't stop! Once all the sugar mixture is in, continue beating for about a minute, until thick and glossy. But don't hang around or it will start to set and you won't get anything else into it. Now add the softened butter, whisking til well incorporated before adding more. It may start to look greasy and slightly separate. Do not panic. Once all the butter is added, keep whisking for another minute until it all looks well combined.
Now, working fast, lift up the mixer and take the bowl out. Stir in the nuts and fruits manually - you need to make sure they're evenly distributed but as you stir it you'll feel it setting so be quick - and pour/spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.
Cover with the other rice paper (again, using more than one sheet if yours isn't big enough) and flatten with another tin or just your hands. Now leave to set. Donna doesn't say where, I think a cool kitchen is fine. Leave to set for eight hours (mine was done way before this). Then turn out - it can take some wrestling and cut into strips/cubes.
When I first made it and tasted it, it was really chewy. So chewy that I thought "hmm, my dentist isn't going to like this" but after a few days it changed to a really lovely, soft consistency that wasn't remotely filling pulling. Donna Hay says to keep it cold as the humidity will make it melt. In Italy they say to keep it in the fridge, too. But it's zero degrees here in Suffolk and my nougat has been at room temperature (room temp being about 20C) and it's absolutely fine. But if you do want to keep it cold, just remember to get it up to room temperature before eating it.
It's very delicious. Would make - has made - great presents. I wouldn't make this for every day but once/twice a year, a wonderful treat. And I feel it's elevated me onto a whole other level of 'cooking'. I mean, I made torrone and lived!