There are two main ways to make this traditional Sardinian torrone. The first is to place the honey and unbeaten (or lightly beaten) egg whites in a pan then gently heat while stirring continuously with a wooden spoon for 45 minutes. Nuts are then added and mixed for a further 30 minutes. The second way – the way I've done it – is to whisk the whites to peaks and add it to honey melted in a bainmarie before carrying on with the same procedure and stirring, adding nuts, stirring.
It's a simple, even relaxing recipe. No watching of thermometers, no scalding syrup or defining moments. Just a gentle heat and slow, continuous stirring. Put on some good music, or better yet, have some good company in the kitchen with you so you can share the stirring and you're halfway there.
The most traditional recipe uses just almonds and Sardinian honey, which is gathered from the Mediterranean scrub that surrounds the island. Try a small portion of pistachio, pine nuts or hazelnuts too. Try dried figs or other dried fruit in it too, just be mindful of the proportions. You can peel your almonds, but I like the contrast of the skins on, either way, an even toasting in the oven is a must to bring out the flavour. If you wanted to add some further aromatics to the batch, try some grated fresh orange or lemon peel or a freshly scraped vanilla bean pod. Typically, it's set between two special wafers known as ostia in Italian. If you can't get these easily, line your pan with parchment as described below. The result is a soft, chewy nougat - a torrone morbido. —Emiko
Prepare a small square or rectangular baking dish with a layer of ostia (traditional wafer) cut to size or two layers of parchment cut to size, one long piece covering the dish vertically, another long piece covering it horizontally, so that the sides of the dish will be covered and you can fold the parchment over the top of the torrone while it is setting.
For the nuts, it's traditional to use 100% whole peeled almonds, but you can leave them unpeeled or do a mix, substituting a portion of almonds for other nuts or even dried fruit such as figs. Place the nuts on a single layer in a baking tray and toast in oven at 325º F, about 10-15 minutes or until shiny and fragrant. Set aside.
Place honey in a large bowl over a saucepan of water (bain marie) on the lowest heat. Make sure the bowl is not touching the water. Heat honey until it melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
In the meantime, whisk egg whites to stiff peaks in a separate bowl. Add the whites to the bowl of honey, stirring with the wooden spoon to incorporate. It should turn into a caramel-coloured cream. Keep cooking, stirring slowly but continuously over gentle heat for 45 minutes. The mixture should thicken and become pale. A small test should determine that your torrone is at a good stage – a drop of the mixture in a glass of water should solidify into a soft ball, not dissolve immediately.
Add the nuts to the mixture and continue cooking and stirring for 30 minutes. Pour into your prepared baking tin. Fold over the parchment to cover the top and smooth it down, pressing the torrone gently with your hands. If using the more traditional ostia, place another layer of ostia cut to size on top and press gently but firmly. Place in a cool place to set for a couple of hours.
When set, cut the torrone into thick slices with a sharp, heavy knife (a little olive oil wiped onto the knife helps). Wrap in parchment or cellophane and tie with pretty string or ribbon for the perfect homemade holiday gift. Keeps very well wrapped in parchment or cellophane and stored somewhere cool.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.