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Spain’s traditional and irresistible Christmas treats
Christmas would not be Christmas in Spain without traditional Christmas treats such as turrón (Spanish nougat), marzipan and polvorones (almond cookies). These sweet delicacies are as much a feature of Christmas in Spanish households as Christmas trees, nativity scenes and Christmas decorations.
Turrón is the most internationally popular of Spain’s confectionery delicacies. The term refers to the traditional confectionery of Jijona, north of Alicante, known affectionately as "the turrón capital" of the world. Its basic ingredients, almonds, honey and sugar, are staple elements of the Mediterranean diet. Although some evidence suggests that nougat is of Middle-Eastern origin, records date turrón production in the city of Sexona, now known as Jijona, as far back as the sixteenth century.
Jijona and Alicante remain the best known types of nougat, with both varieties using the same ingredients but slightly differing process methods. Alicante turrón(hard nougat) is created through the boiling of a honey, sugar and egg white mass, to which almonds, peeled and toasted, are added and mixed. The turrón is then air dried before being cut and shaped into rectangular boxes and bars for packaging.
Jijona turrón(soft nougat) follows the same procedure but goes through a grinding mill for additional refining before being transferred to vats for reheating. At this point the Turronero (the craftsmen who produce the turrón) play a key role by mixing the softened nougat with traditional paddles. It is the Turronero who determine the optimum point of the nougat production process and ensure that no two Jijona turróns are everalike.
Although modern machinery is now used to facilitate its production, the
Marzipan, again of middle-eastern origin, is comprised of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. The best known marzipan delicacies include cakes such pasteles de Gloria, pasteles de Yema (egg yolk filling), Pan de Cádiz (sweet cake wrapped in marzipan), Huesitos de Santo and figuritas.
The mantecados and polvorones are varieties of cake that originated in Estepa (Sevilla). In many homes in the town, pork fat left over from the slaughter of pigs was used, along with wheat flour, almonds, cinnamon and sugar, to prepare homemade sweets known as mantecados. Polvorones is often sold in paper wraps and, due to its powdery consistency, those in the know recommend that it’s best squeezed in the hand before eating so as to compress the dough and avoid any mishaps!
Make your own Turrón
Although Turrón is not particularly easy to make at home, the ingredients are easy to get hold of so here's a recipe for anyone who wants to surprise family and friends with homemade Turrón this Christmas…
• 1 kilo of rosemary honey
• 500g of sugar
• 2 egg whites
• 1,500g of almonds
• 1 lemon
1. Heat the honey in a saucepan until it begins to boil. Add sugar and mix with a wooden spoon.
2. Whisk the egg whites to form fluffy peaks and add the honey and sugar mixture. Mix for 8-12 minutes and then set to simmer until the mixture begins to caramelise. You’ll know this is happening by the browning of the mixture.
3. Add the almonds to the mix with the grated zest of the lemon. Mix well and allow to cool for a few minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into wood or metal moulds lined with kitchen paper.
5. After 2½ hours the Turrón is ready. Once it has cooled completely, remove and store in an airtight container.