Blog Archives

Day 12: Torrone

When I started this 12 days of candy, I knew that Torrone was going to be the last one on the list. It’s one of the husband’s favorite candy and it is also one of the most challenging candies to make. Fortunately, I had two really precise recipes that I was hopeful would lead me to success. Unfortunately for me, I had to try both of them.

IMG_9514

Torrone is an Italian candy made with whipped egg whites and sugar syrup, studded with whole nuts and sandwiched between layers of edible paper. Does this sound complicated yet? Yes, it is. The first recipe I tried, from the d.i.y. Cookbook, was a simplified version. It has you boil all the honey and sugar together to a very high temperature; 320 degrees!

IMG_9498

It’s really hard to boil honey to that temperature without scorching it and, sadly, that is what happened. The color was too dark and the resulting mixture actually tasted a little bitter. Plus, it deflated quite a bit. Not wanting to waste my expensive nuts and dried fruit in this batch, I decided to call that one a loss and turned to my second, more complicated recipe.

The next recipe was from The Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller. It had a lot more ingredients and more components to keep track of, so I enlisted the help of my support crew. They are not looking at the camera because they are watching their respective thermometers.

IMG_9499

They kept track of hot boiling syrup temperatures on the stove, while I made sure the egg whites were done just right. Then, it was a matter of adding the syrups carefully.

IMG_9501

At first, everything seemed to be going well. But, after a few minutes of beating, I noticed that this mixture also deflated. Also, it stayed hot a very long time. We ended up getting a fan to help cool the bowl and the mixer as it whipped for over 20 minutes. Once I added the nuts and fruit though, everything seized up and things became more difficult. It was almost impossible to get the mixture out of the bowl, and flattened. There was no way it was going to be coaxed into a rectangular shape, so I had to content myself with just getting it an even thickness. Also, I had quite a patchwork of edible rice paper in the end because the sheets were not big enough and they kept tearing.

IMG_9509

I knew this was going to be a tough one to cut, so I got the husband’s assistance with this part. It was indeed very hard to cut.

IMG_9511

The final result, though, was just right. This may not be the softest torrone out there. In fact, torrones can vary greatly in hardness. Some are very soft and others quite hard. This version turned out to be a hard version. In retrospect, I should not have tried to cool the mixture down as much as I did because that made it harder to roll out in the end.

IMG_9515

The color is great, a nice bright white. There are almonds and the dried cherries and cranberries give it a festive look. The flavor is spot on with lots of honey notes and crunchy almonds. The nougat becomes nice and soft and chewy in your mouth after a few minutes and you can chew it like gum, only it is tastier. It looks just like the photos in the book, too, which make me very happy. Even the little odd shaped bits look pretty good.

IMG_9519

Well, that’s the end of my twelve days of Christmas candy treats. Today is your last chance to leave a comment and be entered in the drawing to win a box of goodies. I have all the items set aside and ready to be shipped on Monday. Mail service in our area has been slow, so it is very likely the winner will not receive the prize in time for Christmas, but maybe that means they can keep it for themselves! I will be back tomorrow afternoon to announce the winner.

Day 3: Amaretti

Have you noticed that many fancy Christmas cookie recipes have nuts in them? This is only my third post about cookies and every one so far is a nut cookie. I suppose nuts are an expensive ingredient, so they are often seen as luxury food items for special occasions.

IMG_7850

For me, this cookie is an attempt to reproduce an Italian almond cookie that we get sometimes from a local Italian bakery. At the bakery, they call it an almond cookie and it is really chock full of sliced almonds with a chewy center. I really had high hopes that this recipe would be similar to those cookies because I am tired of paying over $10 a pound for these cookies!

IMG_7834

I found this recipe in Baking with Julia and was really surprised that I had never tried them. There are really very few things I have not made from this book. Anyway, remembering my past experiences with almond paste, I decided to depart from the mixing method, which called for using a stand mixer. Almond paste tends to be hard to break up, so I mixed everything in the food processor instead.

IMG_7836

It worked like a charm and was done in just a few minutes. Then, instead of piping out the dough, I scooped it with my smallest cookie scoop and rolled them in sliced almonds.

IMG_7837

I say rolled, but it was more like pressing as many almonds as would stick onto and into that little ball of dough. The cookies I get from the bakery are more almonds than dough, I think.

IMG_7839

When the cookies came out of the oven, I really did a happy dance around the kitchen. They look almost exactly like the ones from the bakery. Those are little more chock full of almonds, but I think I actually prefer these.

IMG_7847

These are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside and really fragrant with the almonds and almond paste. They were super easy and now I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for one of my favorite cookies. That makes me very happy.

What makes you happy during this holiday season? Leave a comment for a chance to win a tin full of cookies!

AMARRETI or Italian Almond Cookies
Makes about 24

The original recipe calls for the cookies to be topped with pine nuts. You could really use any nut that you like; pine nuts, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts would all be good.

8 ounce can of almond paste
5.25 ounces (3/4) cup granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
2-4 cups sliced almonds or other chopped nut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and make sure your oven racks are evenly spaced.

Break up the almond paste into pieces and place in the food processor with half of the sugar. Pulse until the almond paste is completely broken up. Then, add the remaining sugar and pulse until uniform. It may appear a little fluffy. Add the egg whites, one at a time, and pulse until the dough balls up on the blade a little.

Scoop out level teaspoons of dough, about one inch balls. It is very sticky, so drop them directly into a shallow bowl of nuts. Roll each dough ball in the nuts, pressing the nuts gently into the dough. If the dough gets really sticky, you can dip your scoop into some water and shake off the excess water before proceeding with the scooping. Place dough balls onto a lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through the baking time if you have more than one pan in the oven at a time. They should be golden brown. Place pans on racks and let cool completely.

These will keep for up to a week in a sealed container, though they will get drier as they sit.

I only baked one pan and froze the rest of the dough balls because I wanted to see if they would be good that way, too. I will let you know what happens when I bake them.

The Last Day: Bread of Gold

Oh, Bread of Gold, oh Bread of Gold, How lovely ’tis to eat you! This is a silly song the husband sings every time we talk about Pandoro, bread of Gold. It is his favorite bread of the season; probably because it contains no dried fruit or other flavoring, other than eggs, butter, vanilla, and a little sugar. You may be tempted to think it is rather plain, but nothing is further from the truth.

IMG_5723

This bread is light, fluffy, and moist. Slightly sweet, it is rich with butter and eggs and almost melts in your mouth. Like a lot of the breads I have made this week, Pandoro requires advanced scheduling, but also a little flexibility as you will want to wait for the optimal moment to go on to each next step. Every step of the process is designed to make an impact on the finished flavor of the bread. After all, it has no fruit, spices, or nuts to distract you from the flavor of the bread.

It’s just pure golden bread, fit for a king.

IMG_5713

This year, I went with the same recipe I used last year to be found in Artisan Baking. Yes, this is the third recipe I have made from this book in this series. Doesn’t it make you want to go and buy a copy? If you don’t want to, you can find a similar recipe here. I almost tried this new one, but I wanted to see if having a year-old starter and the right pans would make last year’s recipe taste different. The only change I made was to use vanilla bean seeds instead of extract.

IMG_5714

This bread amazes me. It takes all three stand mixing bowls I have and four different attachments to make it. The amount of dough at the end seems tiny compared to the size of the pan.

IMG_5715

16 hours later, the dough has filled the pan and is ready to go in the oven. Once in the oven, it expands even more! I sat in front of the oven watching the bread bake today because it just seemed amazing to me that it still had enough energy to keep growing.

IMG_5717

Since this is the husband’s favorite, I am going to wait until he comes home from work to cut it open, so I will have to report back to you on how it compares to our memory of last year’s pandoro. It does look amazing, though, doesn’t it?

IMG_5721

Today is the official beginning of winter and the shortest day of the year. From now on, the days will only get brighter and brighter. And can you believe this is the end of my Twelve Breads of Christmas series?! It’s a good thing I am done now, because there is just no more room in the freezer! It has been a fun, tasty, and highly interesting 12 days of looking at Christmas bread traditions around the world. Thank you for joining me! I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Now, you still have time to enter my give-away and have a chance at tasting a couple of these treats for yourself. You can leave comments on all twelve posts until midnight, my time, on Sunday, December 23. Only one comment per person per post will be entered into the drawing. I will announce the winner on Monday morning. Now that I am done baking breads, I am hoping to make some other treats to finish filling up the box.

Here’s a recap:

Day 1: panettone
Day 2: stollen
Day 3: panforte
Day 4: St. Lucia buns
Day 5: gingerbread cookies and cake
Day 6: kugelhof
Day 7: ebelskivers
Day 8: snowflake buns
Day 9: pulla
Day 10: gibassier
Day 11: christophomos
Day 12: pandoro

Happy commenting!