Sunday, December 26, 2010



Torrone is a feather-light Italian nougat typically made with sugar, honey, and egg white (although this brand uses gelatin rather than egg); toasted nuts or dried fruit are added to the mildly sweet matrix. Like its relative meringue, torrone's texture can range from gooey to brittle, with some regions or companies specializing in one format or the other.

Antica Torroneria Piemontese is based in the Langhe, a hilly rural area in northern Italy's Piedmont region. The area is noted for a number of agricultural products, among them the particularly delicious hazelnuts that make their way to many of Antica's confections.

At Antica Torroneria Piemontese they still do most steps in the process by hand, producing both hard and soft torrone. The base mixture cooks in a bain marie for at least seven hours, during which time the nuts are carefully toasted. Although the idea of torrone has been around for centuries--perhaps millenia--and the list of ingredients is short, making it continues to be hard and skilled work. The timing the final steps is particularly critical, since the mature torrone sets up quickly.

Known as montelimar in France and turrón in Spain, nougats of the torrone family are found all over the Mediterranean region as well as in far-flung former colonies; a few varieties even enjoy special trade protections under EU law. While many of these treats are associated with the Christmas holidays, the Catalan version, torró, plays a role in a particularly colorful tradition.

In many Catalan households, Christmas decorations include a short section of log propped up on two stick legs, decorated with a cheerful face, and draped in a blanket. The tió de Nadal or "Christmas log," is also known less formally as the caga tió or "pooping log." Children beat the caga tió with sticks while singing songs urging it to poop. When parents judge that the caga is whipped, they remove the blanket and reveal the treats that the children have beaten out of the log. Among these is usually a bar of torró, which is shared by all the celebrants.

Want to introduce a Catalan touch to your own family holiday? Check out this radio story on Catalan Christmas at PRI's The World.

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