By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
Italy is a country rich in traditions—especially when it comes to the holidays. Every holiday has its own unique traditional flavor, whether it be a dessert, for antipasti, or the main course.
For me, Christmas has the decadent scent of panettone with candied fruit and the vanilla taste of pandoro—a cake from Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet. It is soft as a cloud with the sweetness of hard torrone.
Pandoro and panettone take a long time to make—about three days. These monumental, traditional spongy cakes are very difficult to replicate, so it’s better to buy them in or from a “pasticcerie” where they bake these produzione artigianale Christmas desserts. In America, here are two options to order your pandoro: Di Bruno Bros or World Market.
The Christmas delicacy known as "torrone" can be made at home. Torrone is an easy-to-make, all-natural nougat candy. One of the best things about it is the simplicity and purity of the ingredients—no processed ingredients. Just honey, egg whites, and nuts. Once it sets, you can slice it into bars and wrap every bar in a cute package to give this delicious Italian nougat as a gift.
Ingredients for 4 bars:
1/2 pound honey
2 large egg whites
1/2 pound nuts (a mixture of almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios)
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Cover a loaf pan (8 inch by 8 inch) with parchment paper. Have another sheet of parchment paper ready to cover the top of the torrone once it's done.
Place the nuts on a single layer in a baking tray and toast in oven at 350º F for about
8 minutes or until shiny and fragrant. Set aside.
Place honey in a double boiler or large bowl over a saucepan of water (bain-marie) on the lowest heat.
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-colored cream. Keep cooking, stirring slowly but continuously over gentle heat for 45 minutes (it's best to just set a timer for this). The mixture should thicken and become pale.
*A small test should determine whether your torrone is at a good stage: Simply add a drop of the mixture to a glass of water. It should solidify into a soft ball and not dissolve immediately.
Add the nuts, salt, and vanilla to the mixture and continue cooking and stirring for 30 minutes (set the timer again so you make sure to cook for the full 30 minutes).
Pour mixture into your prepared loaf pan. Top with additional parchment and smooth it down, pressing the torrone gently with your hands.
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.
Wrap in paper and tie with ribbons for the perfect homemade holiday gift.
Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), and Superfoods, Ippo is currently finishing her latest work, The Lords of Florence (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).