I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Never Ever Ever Give Up

This is a story about a pastry chef on a mission. I'm sure there is a lesson here somewhere if you look hard enough.

Some months ago I had a sudden inexplicable urge for torrone - which is Italian nougat made (usually) with some very simple ingredients: honey, glucose, egg whites, and nuts of some kind (often almonds or pistachios.) I've got no idea WHY I wanted some, but I did. I do adore meringue (and that's pretty much all it is), so it's possible I was after a non-meringuey yet meringue-ish fix.

Torrone is temperamental as hell to make, but I decided to give it a go anyway - because I'm just painful and determined like that. It definitely falls into the category of things to which my sister would say, "I don't get it. You can walk into a store and BUY some perfectly good ones. Why on earth would you MAKE it yourself?" She has at various times said this to me about bread, jam, conserves, pickles, biscuits, cordials and all sorts of other stuff readily available in shops. It never stops me though - because I adore the challenge of it.

Without further ado, emzee makes Torrone in 5 Acts:

Attempt #1 - Pistachio - I was lacking almost everything one needs (sugar thermometer, rice paper, the patience of a saint) but gave it a go anyway with a dodgy recipe from a dodgy cookbook. Result: Tastes fab, but was so sticky it removed most dentures and you needed a tiny little crow bar to get it off the plate. But you know, you really *wanted* that crow bar because it tasted amazing.

Attempt #2 - Almond - Still no rice paper, no thermometer, but a brilliant fool proof recipe from my friend The Sicilian, who is basically the grand poo-bah of torrone making. It's practically what she uses as mortar for her house. She also said a thermometer was a useless item for this exercise. Result: Tasted good, but never set so it was a runny sticky mass which was impossible to remove from the tin at all unless you froze it. So we did - freeze it I mean - then chopped it into small pieces and mixed it into vanilla ice cream. OMG. YUM. But sadly not exactly what I wanted.

Attempt #3 - Almond - Back to recipe #1 but this time with almonds and doubling the recipe and WITH said sugar thermometer. Result: Disaster and a half. So hard it would break the dentures you replaced from the last effort. Pretty sure I'm still picking it out of my back molars.

Attempt #4 - Pistachio and Cranberry - Downloaded a recipe from the internet with a bunch of good reviews and even a video on how to do it. Epic fail. Pretty sure this one just landed in the bin altogether - after lots of judicious tasting though. (Can't let ten bucks of ingredients go to waste, can we?!)

....and then I gave up for a while, but not before buying two giant packets of rice paper and shoving them down the back of the pantry. "Meh," I figured, "I'll do it eventually." This exercise was getting *very* expensive - what with all the nuts and glucose and whatnot. That was about 8 weeks ago. Last week I was in a doctor's waiting room, reading a copy of Gourmet Traveller. I flicked to a page which had a recipe for Pistachio nougat...and I thought, "Hey, this recipe kinda looks familiar!" I flicked to the front of the magazine and realised it was over 10 years old (it's a doctor's office, what do you expect?). I also realised I HAD this recipe in my giant binder of "someday I will make all of these" recipes which I've copied, begged, borrowed, stolen and written onto the backs of envelopes.

With renewed interest in torrone making, I went back to it - using my photocopied recipe, with the sugar thermometer AND the rice paper. I attempted a vanilla and almond version (yes, I know, not what the recipe called for, but it's all I had on hand.

It was perfect. Absolutely, gloriously, deliciously, delectably, amazingly PERFECT.

Tasted brilliant, texture was brilliant, and it was just DIVINE. I am fairly certain the heavens opened up and the angels sang as I took my first bite of it.

The only minor complication was that I failed to grease the sides of the torrone tin, so it did require some blood, sweat and tears to get the slab out of the tin around the edges...but once I did, it was SO worth it. Seriously, ridiculously awesomely awesome torrone.

Problem? Now that I've achieved it, I'm bereft without a decent culinary challenge. I've made my own sourdough (and lots of other breads, including one which had a 3 WEEK long starter), various jams/chutneys/preserved/pickled goods, nut mixes and muesli and granolas, hell, I've even made fortune cookies from scratch. In short, I love making all the kinds of things one can buy at a shop but it's way more fun to do at home.

Suggestions for something new to drive me crazy are most welcome - and if you'd like some torrone...well, sorry. Ate it. ALL.

1 comment:

Kim (cupcaketastic) said...

Love your bull dog attitude towards cooking, now I am craving torrone. How about perfecting real puff pastry, or home made pop tarts (yum) or developing the perfect gingerbead for the up and coming season blah blah blah