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Celebrate Christmas like a Sicilian with sweet treat torrone

Torrone is shaped into a log and wrapped in wafer paper.
Torrone is shaped into a log and wrapped in wafer paper.

“Torrone qui, ottenere il vostro mandorle e miele caramelle fresca fatta qui!”

It’s a phrase I often heard at the Capo Market in Palermo, Sicily.

“Torrone here, get your fresh-made almond and honey candy here!”

Ahhh … Simple, rectangular, nougat candy prepared with almonds, egg whites, cane sugar and honey, the official candy of Sicily and very popular during the holidays.

I remember a few years back, when touring Sicily with our Slow Food Kansas City convivium, stopping in the small town of Erice and visiting the famous candy and pastry home of Maria Grammatico, where I enjoyed perhaps some of the finest handmade torrone ever. Those and her famous cannolis made the half-mile hike up the hill to her storefront well worth it. I still recall the flavor of Sicilian lemon in the honey-laden candy as I enjoyed a few pieces at an outside cafe while sipping Sambuca liqueur, a memory I will cherish forever.

I went back into my cookbook library and researched torrone and found that it dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, even though a lot of Sicilians will tell you it’s from the Arabs and the Middle Eastern influence because of all the sugar and honey brought to the island. And then there are the Venetians, who claim the candy was brought back to Venice via the Orient.

I agree with the researchers who credit the Roman Empire and Roman cookery.

Most Sicilians prefer the mixture of Bronte pistachios and almonds along with citrus flavoring or orange flower water, all wrapped in a wafer paper.

The soft nougat candy is not difficult to make, but the key is to make sure the sugar reaches a hardball stage during the preparation.

This Christmas, I am sharing my brother Leonard and sister-in-law Janine Mirabile’s recipe for torrone. Just one taste this past weekend brought back memories of Sicily.

Just as the candy producers on the old truck in the market in Sicily did, make sure you use a sharp knife and run it under water between slicing to make a nice, clean cut. I still recall candy-makers’ hands were covered in cornstarch, which made it easier to handle the candy. Also, my brother notes that it’s easier to prepare this with two people, so it would make for a great holiday cooking experience to share with the family.

I do hope you try this candy and enjoy it during the holidays as much as the Mirabiles do.

Buon Natale!

Torrone

1 cup honey

2 egg whites

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 pound shelled almonds

1/2 pound shelled and slightly toasted hazelnuts or pistachios

1 teaspoon candied orange peel, minced

1/2 teaspoon fresh grated lemon peel

Line 2 or 3 6-by-8-inch loaf pans with wafer paper and set aside.

Place honey in the top of a double boiler over boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 hour or until the honey is caramelized. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Add the honey slowly to the egg whites, mixing well with an electric mixer. This mixture will be fluffy and white.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water and let it boil without stirring until it is caramelized. Add the caramelized sugar to the honey mixture a little at a time, mixing well with the electric mixer.

Cook the mixture a little bit longer. When a little of the mixture dropped into cold water hardens (this is hardball stage), immediately add the nuts, candied fruit and grated lemon peel.

Mix all of this quickly before the mixture has time to harden.

Pour mixture into prepared loaf pans about 2 inches deep. Cover the top with wafer paper and let cool for about 20 minutes.

After cooling, cut the candy in each loaf pan down the center lengthwise with a sharp knife, creating 2 long, rectangular pieces.

Make 4 to 6 long pieces of torrone.

Wrap in waxed paper or parchment paper to keep fresh.

Tip: Wafer paper is available at Sweet Supply Shoppe, 11136 Antioch Road, Overland Park.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.

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