Every year just before Christmas I go to the Correus in Granollers to send off several slim rectangular packages to the UK. Each one is a box containing a slab of Torró, a very special sweet which is an important part of the traditional Christmas here in Catalunya.
I sometimes wonder if the recipients know what to do with them or do they end up at the back of the cupboard as sometimes happens to me with unfamiliar foods?
Before coming to Barcelona I had never heard of Torrons. It was probably at the first family Christmas dinner that I discovered how delicious and mouth-wateringly moreish they are.
What is Torró?
As with everything in Catalonia there are two options for the name depending which language you are speaking. Torró in Catalan or Turrón in Spanish but it is the same sweet delicacy a bit like nougat or halva, typically made of almonds, honey, sugar, and egg white, and shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake.
It is a very old confection which originates from Arab cuisine. Evidence shows they were being made 500 years ago in Xixona (Jijona), a small town about 30 miles north of Alicante. Xixona’s economy is focused on the production of torrons and there is a museum there showing the history and how it is made. A friend told me that he went to Xixona as a child in the late 70’s and was disappointed to find it wasn’t the little town of his dreams, filled with small family businesses making torrons by hand with bee hives in the back yards, scented by almond blossom. Instead it was an industrial town full of factories producing thousands of kilos of torrons to be sent all over Spain.
According to legend, honey from bees that drink nectar from wildflowers growing on the mountains around Xixona is an important part of the recipe. That makes sense to me – even the most built up cities have beautiful wild places just outside the commercial zones.
Every ingredient should be of the highest quality and although I have found no information on this, I am hoping that the eggs come from free range organic chickens which scratch and peck around rural farms in the foothills of those mountains. We can but dream ……….
Types of torró and how to chose the best
Torró de Xixona is soft and the almonds have been ground up to form a paste
Torró d’Alicant is hard and brittle and you can see the almonds inside
There are several different qualities of torró.
Strict rules control whether torrons may be labeled with “Suprema” or “Extra.” The best quality is “Suprema” and to get that label, the soft turró must contain at least 60% almonds and the hard, 64% almonds
Apparently there is also “Estàndar” (standard) and “Popular” but we didn’t find any. If it is of lower quality usually it doesn’t say anything on the packet.
Knowledgeable shoppers will look at the ingredients on the package label when they go to buy Torrons for Christmas dinner. You don’t serve just any old Torró on such a special day!
If it looks cheap and cheerful then it probably is. Check out the amount of almonds. The best ones have 60% or more. And there should definitely not be other ingredients like palm oil or E numbers. In general if it is cheap the quality won’t be as good.
Chocolate torró is delicious and a big favorite and it too has qualities including “Extrafino” or “Fino” depending on the percentage of cocoa and milk it contains. Some of the chocolate torrons have dried fruits and nuts mixed in and are increasingly popular.
Christmas is the time to eat Torrons and at the end of the meal large plates are brought out with lots of little cubes of Torró laid out invitingly or built up into a tower or pyramid.
Serve with Cava of course!
Nowadays there are many more versions than just the traditional Alicant or Xixona, including ones with candied fruit, chocolate, praline, coconut and also the one with egg yolk or Gema.
Where to buy Torrons?
All the supermarkets have huge displays of Torrons but the quality is variable. Follow the suggestions above to help chose a good one. Surely I don’t need to suggest you avoid ones that are made by Nestle?
But the best places to buy are the specialist shops. They also make Orxata and ice creams. These shops will have the word Jijonero in their name.
In Granollers the best place to buy Torró is Cal Jijonero in Carrer Corró.
This family has been making them since 1933. There are now two Jijoneros run by people from the same family but after a dispute they split the business, which is the reason there is one in Anselm Clavé and the other round the corner in Carrer Corró.
The one in Carrer Corró keeps the reputation for being the best but you’d have to try them both and decide for yourself.
How to serve and preserve your Torró
If you receive a packet of Torró as a gift here is what to do.
Cut off a chunk, lay it on a board and chop it into little cubes and lay them on a pretty plate.
You can put some neules in a glass in the centre. Don’t forget the cava…..
You don’t have to eat it all at once – leave the rest in the packet and it will keep for some weeks – or so we think but we have never managed to resist eating it all within a few days.
This one is Torró d’Alicant. Caution for anyone with teeth which might break as it is hard. But once in your mouth it starts to melt and you come back for more, and more…..
No need to keep in the fridge, just store it somewhere cool. And Enjoy!