The Christmas season invariably starts with some baking in an Italian household. Mine is no different. I’ve been on the lookout for a recipe that somewhat resembles a “torrone” that my grandfather used to make for Christmas. In his basement kitchen he would mix up all sorts of ingredients and while we were never quite sure of the recipe, it always tasted good. After some trial and error, my mother and I discovered this recipe is a base of what my grandfather was cooking up. I imagine he also added some cinnamon and maybe even chocolate when he got creative but this is a pretty good start.
It isn’t your typical torrone you pick up at the store: a white nougat framed with wafers. It’s a homemade kind typical of southern Italy including Calabria and Sicily that is dark and more like a brittle. (“You know we were short on eggs back then,” is my mother’s explanation. You need eggs to make the nougat type which my grandmother always told me were traded for other needed food staples.)
Try it with hazelnuts or peanuts or even sesame seeds as a filler. Since it’s a type of candy, North American recipes would tell you that you need a candy thermometer. That may be true, but I’ve never seen a Nonno or a Nonna use one. If they can get the feel down for this recipe, so can you and I.
300 grams almonds (lightly toasted). Use 150 grams whole and 150 grams chopped in half.
220 grams of sugar plus extra for coating
3 tablespoons of honey
100 grams unsalted butter
Lightly toast your almonds in the oven on a metal pan, at 350 degrees, for about 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove them from your pan and allow them to cool before you chop half of them.
In a non-stick saucepan, melt the butter on low heat. When it is completely melted add the sugar in and stir.
When the butter and sugar are fully incorporated, add in the honey and increase the stovetop heat to medium. Stir constantly and cook until the mixture is a light caramel colour. Add in the almonds. Stir and cook the mixture on low heat for about two minutes more.
Turn out the mixture onto an oiled counter or buttered parchment paper and allow it to spread out into a 10-inch circle. Quickly smooth the top of the circle to create an even layer.
Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes, then cut it into 4 or 5 strips while it’s still warm. Cut each strip into small diagonal pieces (about 1/2 inch wide) and roll in sugar, coating all sides.
Cool completely and store in a sealed container. Add it to your dessert or cookie trays for the holidays!