Torrone, Italian Nougat Candy
Torrone is a cream-colored confection of sugar, honey and egg whites speckled with toasted, sliced almonds. While it is normally a treat eaten around the holidays, torrone can be enjoyed any time of the year.
It’s just about as difficult to determine the origins of torrone as to know who invented hot water. Contrary to panettone, which every Italian knows is a Milanese creation, the history of torrone is convoluted and uncertain. Some forms of this dolciume (confectionery) were prepared as early as Roman times, but the first documented mentions of torrone come from the Early Renaissance in Spain. Did this delicacy arrive to the Sicilian coasts from there?
Some forms of torrone certainly came from North Africa, or Egypt. In those regions, they used to eat little sweet candies made with honey and sesame seeds. One thing is sure: it’s an ancient, pre-medieval recipe for Christmas candy made of sugar and honey, egg whites, almonds (or hazelnuts) and sometimes with various spices.
In Italy, torrone is usually sold in long rectangles—a light-colored confection with sliced almonds visible throughout—like an oversized candy bar. In all of its forms, torrone is beloved all over Italy. The best honey candy, however, is made in Sardinia, Calabria, Sicily and Abruzzo—anywhere the best almonds and hazelnuts can be found. In the Veneto region, a form of torrone called mandorlato, made with almonds, is very popular. The length and method of toasting the nuts seems crucial in the making of an excellent torrone.
Christmas Candy in Italy
Traditionally, torrone is eaten after lunches and dinner from Christmas Day until January 6th, or the Epiphany (also called Giorno della Befana)—though, you can eat torrone in July, if you wish. Today, many varieties exist: soft and hard, classic or with chocolate, with almonds, hazelnuts or occasionally pistachios. Torrone is often served with an after-dinner amaro (bitters), a sambuca (a sweet anise-tasting digestivo), or a liquor, such as Strega.
Though it’s notoriously sticky and sometimes hard to handle, nothing is more satisfying than making your own homemade torrone. This way, you can be inventive and try your hand at Italy’s favorite candy—adding your own favorite flavors to the mix!