Honey, egg white, toasted nuts — and chocolate

Some of the principal ingredients for chocolate torrone — for some years when Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky was a child, the standard dessert for her birthday, which is coming up next month. Then yesterday, under the header “Chocolate Torrone”, this innocent question from EDZ:

I don’t suppose you remember what cookbook the torrone I used to have for my birthday was in?

I didn’t, and it took me many hours of searching to discover the answer and find the actual, enormously detailed, recipe (which I will reproduce below); as a bonus, I unearthed an account of the very first time EDZ’s mother Ann made a chocolate torrone, back in 1970. (So: a moment of sweet nostalgia to go along with memories of delicious food.)

Background: the torrone. From Wikipedia:

Turrón (Spanish), or torrone (Italian), is a southern European nougat confection, typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts [hazelnuts or pistachios, in particular], and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake. It is frequently consumed as a traditional Christmas dessert in Spain and Italy as well as countries formerly under the Spanish Empire, particularly in Latin America.

There’s a gigantic amount of cultural history here, having to do with the origins of the confection, its role in Christmas celebrations, and the elaborations of the confecton as it spread throughout the Spanish Empire. These are reasonably well covered in the Wikipedia entry.

Background: the Daingerfeld / Zwicky household’s culinary resources. A three-pronged enterprise: a huge bank of cookbooks, many with recipes annotated by Ann (as with the chocolate torrone recipe); a box of recipes from many different sources, most collected by Ann, some by me; and a meal history, a book of descriptions of notable meals (mostly from meals when we had guests or from special occasions), kept regularly from our arrival in Columbus OH (the first entry is from August 14, 1969) through July 14, 1973.

The bank of cookbooks got pared down mercilessly, eventually to fit into a small space in my condo on Ramona St. in Palo Alto (note: Ann died in 1985). Central to the collection are the Gourmet cookbook volumes, the various Julia Child volumes, and the various Craig Claiborne volumes (including the New York Times cookbooks); but there are also more specialized volumes, especially on specific cuisines (Italian prominently among them).

The recipe box, which is small but jam-jacked, found a place in my Ramona St. condo as well.

The meal history book (largely in Ann’s hand) eventually found a place on Ramona St. as well. Each page describes a specific meal (mostly dinners) on a specific date, with a guest list, a detailed description, course by course, of what was eaten and drunk on the occasion (usually with notes on the source of the recipes), and then a Remarks section, with evaluations of the meal.

Searching for chocolate torrone. EDZ remembered the confection as a treat for the birthday, and it was in the meal history book for at least two of them, but without any attribution for the source of the recipe; Ann didn’t give one, because the source was entirely familiar to her.

Oh dear. From a favorite cookbook of hers, on a piece of paper in the recipe box, or from some earlier, non-EDZ, page in the meal history book.

I ran through her favorite cookbooks, plus Marcella Hazan’s Italian cookbooks and Ada Boni’s (1969) Italian Regional Cooking. Only Boni had any kind of torrone, but Boni did indeed have a chocolate torrone in its section on the Abruzzo region. However, it seemed so ridiculously complex and time-consuming that I discounted it as the source; it also had no note from Ann.

On to the recipe box. I looked at every slip of paper in it, but no torrone of any kind or anything that resembled torrone or nougat.

Yes, this was all very tedious, and took a lot of time. So I steeled myself for a search in the meal history book, page by page, beginning with 8/14/69, checking out the desserts. Finally hit pay dirt on 4/10/70, a dinner with Keene and Velma as guests: Keene Daingerfield, Ann’s father, and his second wife, Velma N. Daingerfield, Ann’s stepmother. The dessert entry: “torrone (Michael Field)”, with the remark on the dessert:

Torrone super rich, not very sweet, delicious

“Michael Field” is Michael Field’s Cooking School (M. Barrows and Co., 1965), offering “a selection of great recipes demonstrating the pleasures and principles of fine cooking”. A cookbook I hadn’t looked at, because it’s primarily devoted to explaining techniques. Sigh.

Michael Field on Chocolate Torrone Loaf. On pp. 320-22, with Ann’s judgment “marvelous” written in at the top

The thrre pages:




Ann’s notes on p. 321:

— on the grated almonds [corrected on 1/28; my original description of the note failed to take into account the fact that two different handwritings were involved; EDZ has now written me:

The comments about the almonds are Ann saying “More, maybe 7?” and me saying “I found 8 perfect”. ]

— on the biscuits, “[Pepperidge Farm] Bordeaux cookies can substitute”

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