A lot like nougat and very similar to fudge – or perhaps somewhere between the two! Turrón is Spain´s most famous Christmas treat and has been popular for centuries. It is typically sold in rectangular slabs which can be found piled high on shop counters across Spain during the month of December. For Spaniards across the world, no Christmas could be complete without it, even though the highlight of the Spanish Christmas does not take place until the evening of January 5th. This is when the Three Kings make a torch-lit procession through towns and villages across the land carrying gifts for children.
With a rich, sweet and nutty flavor, turrón may be hard and brittle, or soft and toffee-like. Color wise it can range from white to the deepest caramel. In its simplest, most traditional form, there are just three ingredients – almonds, honey and egg white. However, as recipes have evolved over the centuries, many additional ingredients such as crystallized fruit, egg yolks, nuts and chocolate have been added. Chocolate, in particular, has a big affinity with almonds, which are the main ingredient and creates a particularly rich and delicious turrón. These days you can also find turrón flavored ice cream and even turrón liqueur if you look hard enough!
Supposedly, the Moors of North Africa were responsible for the invention of turrón, which was first produced in the town of Jijona, near Alicante, over five hundred years ago. The hills around the town are carpeted with wild flowering herbs like thyme, lavender and rosemary which are hugely attractive to bees. These, in turn, create honey with a wonderfully deep and distinctive flavor. Another of the key ingredients of turrón - almonds - can be found in abundance in the surrounding valleys.
The turrón made in Jijona is known as turrón blando and it has a soft creamy texture. Jijona turrón or turrón blando takes a lot of preparation. The base is turrón duro, or Alicante turrón, which is made by mixing roasted, chopped almonds with honey. This mixture is then heated and stirred constantly with wooden paddles. Egg white is used to bind the mixture before it is cooled and cut into blocks. To make turrón blando, these blocks are ground up with the addition of almond oil to make a sticky mass. This is reheated and beaten until it forms a soft, even mixture. More egg white is added to hold the mixture together before it is cooled and cut. The ingredients of these two main types of turrón are virtually identical, but the different preparation method produces very distinct forms of texture and taste.
Today, the economy of Jijona still revolves around turrón and there is even a turrón museum to celebrate the many thousands of kilos of turrón which are produced each year in the town. In fact, most of the turrón which is eaten in Spain is produced in this part of the country and it is essential to the local economy.
Turrón from both Alicante and Jijona have been designated with a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), meaning that turrón must be produced in the locality to bear the name. A third town which also has the PGI standard is Agramunt, near Lleida in Catalonia. The turrón from here is often made with hazelnuts or a mix of hazelnuts and almonds.
Turrón now comes in all sorts of different shapes and packaging – round tortas have become popular in recent years - but its quality is strictly controlled. The best quality turrón is known as “suprema” and turrón blando must have at least 60 per cent almonds whilst the hard variety, turrón duro must contain even more with an almond content of 64 per cent. Next down the line is the “extra” label. Then there are standard and popular products, but often these contain additives and colorants, unlike the premium products which are often pure and unadulterated.
Chocolate turrón is categorized in the same way. It may be “extrafino,” “fino” or “popular” depending on how much cocoa and milk it contains and the best types will have a high cocoa content. Often chocolate turrón also incorporates other ingredients like dried fruits and nuts.
As sweets go, turrón is very healthy. The high almond content means that it is rich in protein, calcium and iron and almonds contain no cholesterol at all. Try it partnered with a sweet, rich sherry for a true taste of Christmas, Spanish style!