Other people’s recipes: Torrone morbido

Yes! It’s back! Doing my part to move more of my quality content off of Twitter and onto a platform I control (well, pay for, anyway).

Torrone is an Italian confection, popular for the winter holidays, which is widely available as rectangular prisms in specialty/Italian import stores in the US, and which I’ve wanted to make for a long time. In Spanish, it’s called turrón, and in German it’s Nougat — but it’s not the same as the “nougat” in American candy bars, which is made through a different process. (In some languages, it’s called the equivalent of “French nougat”.) “Morbido” is just Italian for “soft”, distinguishing this version from the firmer, stick-to-your-teeth-er torrone duro that’s also common. In Spain and southern Italy, torrone is commonly made with almonds, but in the northern Italian region of Piemonte (Piedmont) it’s often made with the local “Nocciole del Piemonte IGP” hazelnuts; in various places, pistachios, pine nuts, and even peanuts are also used depending on what’s available and local preferences. I chose to make mine with 60% (ordinary blanched) hazelnuts and 40% pistachios, by weight.

I resolved to make torrone myself after having a wonderful serving from a café in Zermatt, Switzerland, in 2018, returning from the World Figure Skating Championships which were in Milan that year. Most of the torrone that we get in specialty shops here is firmer and chewier than what Petit Royal on Bahnhofstrasse in Zermatt served, which in addition to having a softer, less sticky texture, was made in a dome shape and sliced in wedges like a pie, rather than in the rectangular prisms we get imported. (I actually went into Google Maps and scrolled through the pictures of the café until I could find one of the torrone display to reassure myself that I wasn’t imagining this!) Those torroni were not just nut-flavored: they also had some fruit (I think dried cherries or maybe candied orange peel, both are attested) and chocolate. Next time I’ll try some other flavors.

The recipe that I used was from Eataly, the Mario Batali-affiliated Italian grocery/restaurant chain, but a web search pulls up plenty of others. It makes a lot: the yield is somewhere around a kilogram and a half, most of which is sugar, and contains no fat (other than what’s naturally inside the nuts) and no dairy products, so it’s perfect for those who can’t eat dairy products but not so great for diabetics.

All of the ingredients

We start as usual with the mise en place — although technically the mise should be after measuring, but I’m doing the usual trick here of measuring some ingredients into the cooking vessel directly. Hiding inside the saucepan is 500 g of plain ol’ granulated sugar; it will be combined with 100 ml of water and 50 g of the light corn syrup. (European and Australian recipes will call for “glucose syrup” but these are culinary equivalents.) In addition, the entire jar of honey (450 g or about a pound) will be heated in a separate pan. The metal egg cup contains three fresh large egg whites, which have been allowed to come to room temperature. (Hint: separate eggs while cold!) As you can see, I ordered my nuts by the pound from Nuts.com, because this recipe calls for more than a pound of nuts, I didn’t want to be stuck paying supermarket prices for four- or six-ounce bags.

A gold-colored half-sheet pan in which a very thin sheet of rice paper is barely visible

Quarter-sheet pan prepared with butter and rice paper

One of the things that had held me back from making my own torrone for the past four years was that I didn’t know what the edible paper it’s covered with actually was — and then once I had some recipes, it took me a while to find and order the stuff (from a sketchy Chinese seller on Amazon Marketplace). The Eataly recipe calls for “confectionery rice paper”, but various sites you’ll find when searching for that will tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s “wafer paper” and nothing at all to do with rice paper. Either search string will find the stuff on Amazon, mixed in with other things that are clearly not the right stuff, as is usually the way. The stuff that I bought, when it arrived, was labeled only in Chinese (Google Translate told me it claimed to be “rice paper”) and it was an odd shape that didn’t fit any of my pans.

The recipe calls for making a rectangular torrone in an eight-by-twelve-inch pan. All I have is a quarter-sheet pan, which is close to those dimensions but a bit wider; as it turns out, that was a good thing because the torrone overflowed the sides anyway. Pan prep is trivial, just grease the sides (the recipe calls for butter) and fit the paper into the bottom somehow. (On mine it came up the sides a bit because the odd metric size of the Chinese rice paper was not a quarter-sheet nor indeed 8×12 but in fact 23 cm × 32 cm.)

A metal colander sitting on top of a kitchen scale, filled with a mixture of blanched hazelnuts and shelled pistachios

500 g of mixed hazelnuts and pistachios

This recipe calls for 500 grams of nuts, which is annoyingly 46 g more than a pound. Rather than buy two pounds of the same nut, and then have a large excess, I figured that I would buy two different kinds of nuts and mix them — as is common in actual Italian torrone. I bought factory-blanched hazelnuts, because I’ve done that myself before and it’s a royal pain, and likewise pre-shelled pistachios. Unfortunately, I could not find raw-but-shelled pistachios on Nuts.com, and mixing them together like this was actually a bit premature, because the hazelnuts still needed to be toasted! I used 300 g of hazelnuts and 200 g of pistachios (and had no trouble eating a lot of the remaining pistachios even before I started cooking).

Mixed nuts in a quarter-sheet pan sitting on the countertop

Nut mixture spread in a pan for toasting

Once I re-read the recipe and noticed the opening paragraph I had completely skipped over, I quickly preheated the oven to toast the nuts, but there was no way to separate the pistachios back out again, so they got double-toasted. In the photo above they’re shown in a quarter-sheet pan, but I ended up transferring them again to a half-sheet pan because they were packed in too close to toast properly.

A small saucepan containing a dark golden liquid sitting on a kitchen scale

452 g of wildflower honey

The recipe calls for 450 grams of honey, which is theoretically slightly less than a pound, but you’re doing better than me if you can get all of the honey out of even a wide-mouthed jar without diluting it. I did my best with the spatula and then added a tablespoon more from another jar. Many recipes call for a varietal honey of some sport; I used a locally sourced wildflower honey because it was available in one-pound jars and wasn’t outrageously expensive — the same apiary sells cranberry honey, which might make sense if I ever tried to do this again with dried cranberries. (The recipes with orange peel naturally call for orange-blossom honey.)

The mixing bowl of a stand mixer, with a tiny puddle of egg whites in the very bottom, and the mixer's whisk attachment

Three egg whites in the bottom of mixer workbowl

The base of torrone is a standard Italian Meringue — that’s a whipped egg-white foam that is cooked and stabilized by adding an extremely hot syrup to the egg whites while they’re being whipped in a stand mixer. I’ve done this many times because Italian Meringue is the base for a proper buttercream frosting. This recipe calls for three egg whites, which is a little bit annoying because I freeze egg whites two at a time — rather than fiddling with frozen whites, I just made a batch of egg-yolk chocolate-chip cookies, which use three yolks, and saved the whites overnight in the fridge. (I have a birthday cake to make later this month anyway, so the frozen whites will get put to good use.)

I find that it’s hard to get the mixer’s whisk attachment to engage the egg whites when there’s so little in the workbowl, so it’s best to just grab the whisk and froth them up a bit by hand before mounting in the mixer and hitting the motor. The recipe does not call for any cream of tartar or other acid, but at least on this day, it didn’t seem to need them.

An egg white foam in the stand mixer after drizzling in a pound of hot honey

First stage of meringue: after adding hot honey

The most challenging aspect of this recipe is getting everything to the right stage — the sweet syrups to the right temperature and the egg whites to soft-peak stage — at the same time. I overwhipped the egg whites a bit, they were definitely closer to firm rather than soft peaks, but the finished product was none the worse that I could see. The honey, heated in a separate pan to 250°F (120°C), is drizzled in first, turning the egg foam this lovely golden yellow color. (Of course the motor must be running in order for this to work properly; otherwise you’d end up with a puddle of honey on the bottom with a layer of cooked egg white on top.) This part of the process is dangerous and you can severely burn yourself or others if you get the hot sticky liquids on you!

A bright white meringue being whipped at high speed in the mixer

Finished and slightly cooled meringue

After all of the honey is incorporated into the egg white foam, the sugar syrup is added at a very high temperature, 300°F (150°C), at which point the meringue will inflate to nearly fill the mixing bowl. It is then beaten (the recipe says “on high” but my mixer was not happy with that so I backed it off a couple notches) for a further five minutes to cool the meringue to a safe working temperature. There is only a short amount of time left while the meringue is still workable enough to add in the nuts, so those need to be ready and close at hand. The nuts are just folded into the meringue, and quickly turned out into the prepared pan.

A misshapen mound of lumpy bright white meringue sitting on a metal pan

Torrone at last!

At this point we have something that could be called torrone, at least if allowed to cool until set. But the “standard” presentation is as blocks, so the recipe advises covering the meringue with a sheet of parchment, while it’s still relatively plastic, and rolling over the top of the pan with a rolling pin to flatten and pack it into a rectangular prism. (My words, not theirs!)

Pressing the torrone flat under a parchment sheet

It was clear to me that I had more torrone than could actually fit in my quarter-sheet pan — enough so that I actually prepared a second pan just in case — but it turned out that there wasn’t that much overflow. I squished the torrone down by hand, preferring getting the increasingly sticky meringue on my hands to trying to clean it off of a rolling pin.

The pan full of torrone, with a sheet of baker's parchment peeled halfway from the top; a quantity of meringue is sticking to the parchment rather than staying in the pan.

Removing the parchment

This parchment trick does not seem to have been a particularly good one: it was quite difficult to remove the parchment after smoothing out the torrone into the pan, and the process of getting the meringue off the parchment made a mess of the top of the torrone where I had just flattened it. I’m inclined, next time, to shape it into a dome like the ones I saw in Zermatt, and perhaps use some spray oil on the parchment. (After I finished, I weighed the parchment, and I ended up with about 45 g of meringue stuck to it.)

A nearly empty mixing bowl with a rubber spatula. The sides of the bowl are covered with bright white meringue.

Meringue left stuck to mixing bowl

A similar amount of the meringue was left stuck to the sides of the mixing bowl, which was impossible to remove mechanically. (It required lots of hot water, first in the sink and then in the dishwasher.)

Close-up of torrone portions sitting on the cutting board, highlighting some of the nuts in cross-section

Portioned torrone (close-up)

After allowing the torrone to fully cool and set in the quarter-sheet pan overnight, I used a small frosting spatula to unstick the meringue from the sides of the pan and then turned it out onto the cutting board. At this point I had to decide how I wanted to portion it: I could have gone for the traditional thin baton shape, but I decided to make more bar-cookie-like rectangles, which would be easier to cut. I sliced it in a 6×4 array, making sure to rinse the knife under hot water and wipe dry between every other cut, giving a serving size of roughly 65 grams and 280 kcal (of which 38 g is sugar).

Several pieces of torrone arranged on a cake plate for service

Ready for serving!

I chose 16 pieces of the 24 to display on a cake stand and bring in to the office to share with co-workers. Everyone who tried it — even those who were entirely unfamiliar with this sort of confection — professed to have liked it. After a day and a half of resting, the flavor of the nuts seems to have been the note most perceptible to the tasters, whereas the honey had largely receded into the background. (This suggests that fancy varietal honeys are probably not going to add much, especially not after being heated to 250°!)

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: about 65 g
Servings per recipe: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 280 Calories from fat 100
% Daily Value
Total Fat 11​g 14%
 Saturated Fat 1​g %
Trans Fat 0​g
Cholesterol 0​mg 0%
Sodium 9​mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 40​g 15%
 Dietary fiber 2​g 7%
 Sugars 38​g
Proteins 4​g %
Vitamin D 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 0%
Potassium 0%
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