Monthly Archives: December 2011


Torrone with dried cherries, almonds and pistachios. Sweets for grown ups

Torrone is Italian nougat. It’s usually sold at festas, and at Christmas we always get some. Usually it’s of the rock hard variety (I get the impression this is easier to make as the softer one – which I thought of as the ultimate luxury as a child – is much harder to find and more expensive). Sometimes it’s covered in chocolate and sometimes it’s pantorrone which is torrone with a booze-soaked sponge that runs through it, covered in chocolate.

The only person I know who ever made their own torrone was my uncle Bruno, but he died some years ago, so I couldn’t ask him.  I knew it was fiendishly difficult.

I was not proved wrong.

Actually I don’t want to scare you. It’s not that it’s difficult, difficult. But it’s a lot about technique and temperature and there’s no correcting it if you get it wrong. My heart was beating really fast when I made it and I think I probably shortened my life by six months.

Please do not try to make it if you’re in a rush or you have young children running round the house.

Don’t make it if you haven’t got the right ingredients or utensils. You really need a sugar thermometer for example. 

You heat the mixture up to 130C and you have minutes to make it once it’s at temperature. You really need to have all your equipment near to you (I actually moved my Kenwood Chef out of its specially built cubby hole next to my cooker and I strongly suggest you have your mixer next to your hob, too).

I wouldn’t try to make this without a freestanding mixer.

And as I said, no small children that only you are in charge of; getting 130C sugar solution on skin is not a joke. I know, I’ve done it (when I made toffee apples one year) and the burn was ferocious.

So now that I’ve scared you stupid, here’s the good bit. If you get it right – and you will – it’s glorious. It looks lovely and it’s pretty much all over in half an hour.

I got this recipe from the Donna Hay (I LOVE HER) magazine Dec/Jan2012 magazine, however I can’t find it on line so I can’t link to it. Which is a shame cos the pictures are GORGEOUS. If you have an iPad, do get the app (which is currently free). I’ve adapted it slightly in that I added the nuts and dried fruits I wanted to add. Basically once you’ve got the nougat done (and I wouldn’t mess with that part of it) you can add any nuts/dried fruits you want up to a point. You don’t want to overload the mixture. I’d say 400g total of nuts/dried fruits is probably the limit. I used about 200g and could easily have had more.

You need 2 x sheets of confectionery rice paper (I got mine from Amazon; Lakeland also sells it as does the Jane Asher on line shop. You may be able to get it locally, I couldn’t).

550g caster sugar
350g liquid glucose
115g honey
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 eggwhites, at room temperature
100g butter, softened – mine was melted but cooled
then whatever nuts/dried fruits you want. I used about 160g almonds and pistachios and 60g dried cherries. Hazelnuts would also be lovely I think. Toast the nuts gently first.

A word about liquid glucose. You can buy it in small tubes/tubs from the supermarket. Your chemist may be able to sell you culinary grade liquid glucose in bigger quantities. I buy mine from Jayson’s Pharmacy. JM Loveridge also sells it (and in fact the one I got from Jayson’s was marked Loveridge) but I couldn’t work out how to buy it on site and was in a rush.

You need to line the base of a 20cm square tin with the rice paper. My rice paper wasn’t big enough so I overlaid another sheet to fill the gap. Keep the other sheet for the top.

Now, place the sugar, glucose, honey and vanilla in a saucepan with a handle. Very important this, as you’ll need to use just one hand to eventually pour the ingredients into the mixer bowl.

Over a low heat, let it all dissolve. Stir until this happens. Once the mixture starts to boil, put in a sugar thermometer and watch the temperature rise as it heats. You need to watch it. Don’t wander off. Donna Hay says that once it gets to about 110C put the egg whites in the free standing mixer and start whisking until stiff peaks form. I found that by doing this (my mixer was right next to me by the hob, have I mentioned) I had plenty of time.

You’ll find the temperature goes up in leaps, then seems to stagnate (you may need to gently increase the heat but keep watching it), then jumps up again. Once it’s at 130 you are green for go.

With the mixer beating (I had mine on medium speed), pour the molten sugar mixture very slowly into the egg whites. The idea is that it you cook the egg whites with the sugar mixture. A slow, steady, thin stream is what you’re looking for. Beating continuously all the time. Don’t stop! Once all the sugar mixture is in, continue beating for about a minute, until thick and glossy. But don’t hang around or it will start to set and you won’t get anything else into it. Now add the softened butter, whisking til well incorporated before adding more. It may start to look greasy and slightly separate. Do not panic. Once all the butter is added, keep whisking for another minute until it all looks well combined.

Now, working fast, lift up the mixer and take the bowl out. Stir in the nuts and fruits manually – you need to make sure they’re evenly distributed but as you stir it you’ll feel it setting so be quick – and pour/spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.

Cover with the other rice paper (again, using more than one sheet if yours isn’t big enough) and flatten with another tin or just your  hands. Now leave to set. Donna doesn’t say where, I think a cool kitchen is fine. Leave to set for eight hours (mine was done way before this). Then turn out – it can take some wrestling and cut into strips/cubes.

When I first made it and tasted it, it was really chewy. So chewy that I thought “hmm, my dentist isn’t going to like this” but after a few days it changed to a really lovely, soft consistency that wasn’t remotely filling pulling. Donna Hay says to keep it cold as the humidity will make it melt. In Italy they say to keep it in the fridge, too. But it’s zero degrees here in Suffolk and my nougat has been at room temperature (room temp being about 20C) and it’s absolutely fine. But if you do want to keep it cold, just remember to get it up to room temperature before eating it.

It’s very delicious. Would make – has made – great presents. I wouldn’t make this for every day but once/twice a year, a wonderful treat. And I feel it’s elevated me onto a whole other level of ‘cooking’. I mean, I made torrone and lived!

Your own orange chocolate orange

Okay. Two chocolate recipes in a row and then I think that’s enough. I must talk about something hard core and tecchy next like SIM card entry systems (I do know about those, actually).

Hmm. I can’t work out how to rotate this. Although I guess there’s no right way up…

These are even simpler than the salted caramel chocolates because it’s all done in one stage. BUT you do really need to have made the candied orange peel before that. That’s the secret weapon.

The good news is that you eat far less chocolates if you’ve made them yourself. Promise. At least you do once the novelty has worn off.

So obviously you can do this in any sort of mould. You could even make them lolly shaped. But I just happentohave, woudln’t you know it, some orange segment moulds.

Melt some chocolate, I always use 70% cocoa but you could use more or less. Chop up some candied orange peel, really small. Then pour some chocolate into the moulds, half way, sprinkle the chopped up candied orange peel in. Top up with more melted chocolate. If you put the orange peel in first (which you can do) they will show at the top. Perfectly fine but not as pretty. That’s it. Put in fridge for half an hour. Turn out. Eat. Won’t make you quite as sick as a Terry’s chocolate orange and much better for you.

I’ve checked with the Department of Health and these are officially one of your five a day…

Salted caramel chocolates

Here it is, cut in half.

I’m very fond of salted caramel chocolates. I know salted caramel is a bit everywhere now, but I am partial.

L’Artisan du Chocolat’s are my favourite. But expensive. I went into the store within Selfridges not so long ago and a box costs £12 million pounds. Or nearly that.

Anyway, whenever I’m on a deadline, which is often, I think about how I can waste time in the kitchen. Because when I am failing at writing I need to achieve at something. Be it ironing or stuffing envelopes. I need a task that has a beginning, middle and end. Unlike writing which seems like all beginning and then huge relief followed by anxiety.

So this is what I did. I got my button chocolate mould, what I bought at Lakeland. This doesn’t make buttons like Cadbury’s buttons, it’s bigger. Each button is about 2cm across at the widest part. (Or something, I haven’t measured it I can if anyone wants me to). I melted some 70% cocoa chocolate, which isn’t really chocolate, it’s health food. I half filled the mould. Then put it in the fridge until set (not long). Then I put in some caramel sauce.

Here they are, chocolate at the bottom already. I actually put a bit more caramel in than is shown because I am very greedy.

Don’t be mean with the caramel sauce. But don’t fill so much that you can’t seal the chocolate up. They key is not to get the chocolate too thick, but to strike the right balance between enough chocolate to hold the caramel in, without making it too thin/thick. Even if you get it wrong the result is totally delicious, so fret not.

I use this caramel toffee sauce, aka dulce de leche. I don’t know how authentic it is but it’s what I use.

You thought I made my own caramel to go in these? You were wrong.

On top of each puddle of caramel, I then put a sprinkle of sea or rock salt. My two year old sometimes helps with this bit and some get enough salt to put you in a coma and I have to go round cleaning up.

You then let it rest for a bit more in the fridge, then top up with more chocolate. I keep my chocolate runny by keeping it over a pan of boiling water (but not on the stove).

Voila. Easy. Let’s just have another look at the finished product:

Pretty nice eh?


Addendum, November 2012.

I have now started making my own caramel to make these and it elevates them into something else. It doesn’t take long to make, the caramel, but as it’s my secret ingredient I am, for once, not going to share it. I’ll just post this here to be really annoying.

But you can find a recipe for caramel anywhere…

LED candle lights

Some years ago, I spied some rechargeable lights that looked really good. They were called Candela rechargeable lights by Vessel and they were not cheap: about £70 for four. I bought some and for a while, they were indeed great. You could use them inside or outside, no wires or batteries, and when they needed recharging you just put them in their recharging base (which did plug in). I could use them as a night light for my children – they could even take them to bed with them if they wanted.

The Candela (which means candle in Italian by the way). Not working because, well, they don’t work anymore.

But. After not very long at all, they stopped taking a charge. After replacing the base three times I gave up and relegated them to the top of the dressing table, where they’re still gathering dust. I can’t seem to find them for sale in this country anymore and perhaps that’s why, cos they just stopped working after a while and people got fed up with them.

This was a shame because they were also really good for when and where you wanted low, ambient light – a bath say – but didn’t want to use a candle. I love candles, I have more scented candles than you could possibly imagine: Diptyque, Creed, Jo Malone, Fresh et al, but with two young children, I don’t really use them much anymore.  So for the past few years I’ve been having a bath under what seem like 2000W bulbs. Restful? Not much.

Then I found these LED flickering Imageo candle lights from Philips.

Here they are off.

Here they are on. Magic init.

A company I can at least track down fairly easily if things go wrong. And instead of £70 they cost £17 for three (ha, just looked and they’re even cheaper now, but you know with Amazon the price goes up and down, £17 is what I paid for them anyway). I though they’d be a bit naff, but actually they’re rather good (they look like a candle in a frosted glass container). You tip them to turn them on or off and when not in use they sit charging in a base. Great in pumpkins come Hallowe’en, great anywhere you’d use a candle. I love them by the bath, don’t have to worry about switching them off. They’re really nice on a dinner table (no point pretending they’re real but from a distance they do look authentic).  I give my children baths using them when they need calming down (works a treat, the little one goes into a sort of trance looking at them, so much so that I end up asking her if she’s doing a poo in the bath, it’s that sort of far away stare, but don’t worry, cos she’s not, she’s just transfixed).

They won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love ’em.