One simply can not have Christmas in Italy without Torrone, the country’s equivalent to nougat. It’s sooo good ! So good in fact that Italians are only allowed it’s pleasure during the end of each year. It feels blasphemous to me that someone would create something this enticing and then deprive you of it for months upon months. Unless Christmas bells are jingling, these marshmallowy slabs of toasted nuts and honey are generally unspoken of. But when they do come round, let me reiterate that they leave nothing to be desired, the many variations range from soft (morbido) to hard (friabile), some have berries while others have nuts, some are flavoured with citrus zest and of course chocolate is never far behind when it comes to sweets – in fact as many as thirty variations are made in Italy alone and so far every type I’ve tasted leaves me yearning for more. And when I’m not tasting I’m just staring. The other day while the market was packed and I had groceries to buy I spent the better part of my shopping just eye gobbling the torrone! I am wishing now that I had taken a picture to let you understand the splendour of what is known around the world as Italian Christmas candy.
With good old-fashioned torrone lining market shelves, there’s absolutely no reason to attempt making it at home at this time of the year because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to make hay while the sun shines. In other words, it’s time to take full advantage of the joyous torrone spillover. That’s exactly how I made my first torrone biscuit. Last year my friend Candice from SA came to Europe on a cruise around the Med so naturally we had made plans to meet and get together when her ship docked in Genova’s port. It was almost year-end and I stocked up on lots of Christmas gifts to send back to my family, including a substantial supply of torrone. Unfortunately or fortunately (depends on how you want to look at it) Candice didn’t have enough luggage space to take back everything I had wanted to send so there I was, burdened with a few too many boxes of torrone, which could be dangerous to a girl without her family at Christmas time.
Wanting to stop myself from a torrone overdose, the idea came to me to turn the sweets into biscuits. The concept of having torrone melting inside buttery rich dough just to add some extra holiday weight seemed like a mad idea at the time but I have an affection for mad ideas and went full steam ahead with my self indulgence. It unexpectedly turned out to be a satisfying madness and thereafter transcended into gifts for a few people I know with a familiar sweet tooth.
This year I couldn’t stop myself from doing them again and sharing the recipe with you as a thoughtful gift idea for someone you love this Christmas. This is the season of giving and sharing and there’s something overly endearing about giving or receiving a gift that’s been made by hand. Of course it doesn’t have to be the only present but it does makes a sweet add-on to whatever else you had planned. Wrap these up rococo-style and it might be tantamount to wearing your heart on your sleeve.
- 140g torrone friabile (hard nougat)
- 180g butter
- 60g castor sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 200g plain flour
- 50g cornflour
- Grease 20cm round loose bottomed pie dish.
- In a pestle and mortar roughly crush torrone and set aside.
- Sift flour and cornflour and add the sugar and salt to the sifted flour.
- In a large mixing bowl whisk butter until light and fluffy.
- Add 1/3 of the flour into the butter and mix until crumbly.
- Add half of the remaining flour and continue mixing until the flour and butter are well combined.
- Add the final batch of flour and continue mixing.
- Once the dough has formed a ball, add torrone in batches.
- With each addition of torrone work the dough ensuring that the torrone is well incorporated.
- The final result of dough should be pliable and well textured with candy bits and nuts.
- Transfer dough into the well-greased pie dish and press down filling the tray evenly with the dough so that it bakes consistently.
- Once the dough has been evened out adequately, prick holes into the dough randomly.
- Cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 130°C gas fan / 150°C electric fan / 170°C conventional .
- Bake for 60 minutes or until golden brown and firm.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Lift the biscuit wheel out of the pie dish and slice into wedges with a sharp knife and leave to cool completely.
- Dust with confectioners sugar.
Maestros Need to Know *When making any dough that has butter incorporated into it, it is always advisable to let the dough rest in the fridge before baking so that the butter hardens again, ensuring a crumbly final result when baked. *Poking holes in the biscuit dough eliminates the risk of uneven baking. *When making biscuits that have to be cut after baking, it is advisable to let the biscuit cool only for a short time before attempting to cut it. When biscuits cool completely they become hard and are likely to break if cutting at that stage is attempted.