This classic Italian confection is deceptively simple. It only has a handful of ingredients and there’s no baking involved, but don’t be fooled. The short ingredient list leaves the success up to skill and technique; admittedly a major reason I wanted to give it a try. But nougat is not for the faint of cooking heart. It’s sticky and hot and gets everywhere and will throw all your cooking confidence to the wind.
As with anything that dates back multiple millennia, the origins of torrone are somewhat disputed. The Italian history tells that ancient Romans developed a similar confection called cupedia, made from honey, flour, wine and sesame. It was so time consuming and expensive that the confection was typically made only for formal occasions or as an offering to the gods.
Perhaps a more logical, though more complicated history places torrone’s origins in Arabic Cordoba where a medical practitioner records making tu-run in the 12th century.
Regardless, its name appears to derive from the Latin torrere meaning ‘to toast’ due to toasting the nuts and seeds before combining them into the nougat, a etymological tidbit which has endeared torrone to me all the more.
The trick with torrone is temperature. Ok. Full disclosure: that is the only secret I uncovered. There very well may be others, ones that may have prevented my entire kitchen becoming sticky white, but they never revealed themselves to me. Getting the sugar to the right temperature to harden when it cools but not so hot that it cracks, and working quickly once the nougat is whipped before it cools too much to handle are key steps. Planning ahead and making sure everything is prepped when needed, will help immensely.
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
1/2 c honey
1/4 c corn syrup
1/2 c water
2 egg whites
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup almonds
½ cup pistachios
½ cup dried cranberries
If you are using wafer paper prepare your pan first. When done properly a sheet of wafer paper on the top and bottom of the nougat makes the torrone look more uniform and the decorative surface is more the sliced one than the top. Mine just looked like a mess. I found that using only the bottom layer helped keep the torrone together, and release easily from the pan but left a pretty, whipped top. It’s like “torrone rustica” (yep, I just made that up. Famed Italian paticceres are rolling in their graves at my confectionary blasphemy).
You can buy wafer or rice paper at any baking supply store, or Amazon. Cut a sheet to the size of the bottom of your 8×8 inch tray and fit as exactly as you can into the bottom. Grease the sides with oil and Voila, your pan is torrone ready.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water and honey in a large saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. As the sugar heats it will bubble and expand so make sure to use a large enough pot to allow for it.
Use a candy thermometer and heat the sugar to 315 degrees, hard crack stage. The sugar will continue to heat when you remove it from the burner so watch carefully and pull it just a couple degrees early. I have read both to stir the syrup occasionally and not to stir at all. I couldn’t tell much of a difference and it makes me feel better to stir a bit. The important thing is just to watch it carefully.
While the sugar is cooking whip your egg whites in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment until “stiff but not dry” peaks form. Whatever that means. The whites will separate if left in the bowl for too long after whipping so I started at about 290 degrees.
When the sugar reaches temperature remove from heat and stir it a bit to help the bubble fall. Set the mixer on high and pour the syrup into the egg whites in a very slow, steady stream. When you’ve scraped all you can from the pot leave the mixer running while the nougat grows and thickens and the mixer bowl has cooled enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Slow the mixer to low and stir in the nuts and cranberries. As soon as they’re incorporated detach your mixer bowl and use your stiffest plastic spatula to transport the nougat into the pan. This will take no small amount of conviction, bull-headedness, and willingness to get your fingers covered with the stuff. Manhandle that candy into place and press down into the corners and smooth out the top as much as possible. (If you’re opting for the double wafer sheet style, place the second piece of paper over a mostly smoothed nougat and press down with a clean spoon or spatula to squeeze out any bubbles).
Now all you have to do is let the candy cool and cut it into pieces. I found that it’s easiest to cut at just-a-bit-warmer-than-refrigerated. Take well-cooled torrone from the fridge and let sit 10-20 minutes. Use your sharpest knife and a large cup of hot water. Keeping the knife clean, hot and dry slice the nougat into mini brownie sized bites or elegant ½” slices (if you’re a show-off). You can use a bit of corn starch if it gets too sticky to handle but use sparingly.
You can store the nougat for a week or two wrapped and refrigerated. Despite its seeming personal vendetta against me torrone is still a personal favorite that will always hold a special place in my heart, right next to all the half-disastrous kitchen adventures on which I’ve embarked. But my favorite way to eat it is just slightly chilled with a cup of tea or coffee.