It happens every year around Christmas time: I buy too much turrón, Spanish nougat. And every year I tell myself that next year I won’t buy as much, but invariably, I do it again. Not that I don’t buy many other Christmas sweets, and make them, too, of course. But turrón is closest to my heart. I talked about Christmas nostalgia in other posts (click here and here), and turrón is up on top of the list when it comes to it. Its flavor, its aroma, the looks of it. Turrón brings me back to Christmas in Spain, Christmas with family that are no longer with us. Around Christmas time, my dad wouldn’t end a meal without munching on a piece of turrón. And he liked the hard one best, turrón de Alicante —hence the munching.
So like every year, I ended up with a supply of leftover turrón. But unlike every year, this time I had a plan: it wasn’t going to waste, but would be incorporated into other delicious desserts. And from now on, I’m hoping this will happen every year. Spanish nougat mousse, mousse de turrón, is lighter than its “father”, but just as tasty.
But what is turrón, you may ask? You might have heard of the Italian version torrone, maybe even tasted it. Turrón and torrone probably have a similar origin. Turrón is arguably the most Spanish of all the Spanish Christmas treats. Closely translated to nougat in English, it’s a confection made of honey and almonds, and usually egg whites as emulsifiers, and is shaped into a rectangular tablet, or a round cake in the case of the hard type. The two most traditional types are turrón de Jijona, or soft turrón, and turrón de Alicante, or hard turrón, where the whole, toasted marcona almonds, are clearly visible. These are the two types of turrón I grew up eating, but nowadays, more varieties have made their entrance on the market: turrones that include or are mostly based on chocolate, and that also add different kinds of liquor and other nuts or candied fruit. Another favorite of mine, more recently introduced but still one of the traditional kinds, is turrón de yema tostada, candied egg yolk turrón.
Jijona is a small city not far from my hometown of Onteniente, only 34 miles away. The town of less than 8,000 people is famous worldwide for its elaboration of turrón in the winter and ice cream in the summer, both of which are distributed and enjoyed all over Spain, and in the case of turrón, worldwide. In fact, if you walk around many cities and towns in Spain, you will find an ice cream store, an heladería, named “Jijona” or “La Jijonenca”.
Alicante is the province where the city of Jijona is located, and also the name of its capital, and where the hard turrón, turrón de Alicante, originates. Unlike Jijona, which is surrounded by mountains, Alicante is a coastal city that many northern Europeans call home.
As for the origin of turrón, there’s little doubt that it is Moorish. Almonds and honey were widely used in Al-Andalus (Spain’s name during the almost seven century medieval Moorish occupation), and in fact many Spanish sweets use almonds and/or honey in their elaboration. It is believed that the Moors brought turrón to the Mediterranean lands they conquered, particularly to Spain and Italy. The Spanish turrón is believed to have been born in the province of Alicante around the XVth century. Its name probably comes from the word torrat, a term that means a mix of honey, nuts and dry fruits cooked directly on the fire to give it consistency. Another theory of the origin of the word is supported by the document titled “De Medicinis et Cibis Semplicibus”, written in the XIth century by an Arab doctor, where he mentions a dessert called “turun”.
Nowadays, Spain is the world’s number one producer of turrón and marzipan, both traditional Spanish Christmas sweets, which are exported worldwide, mainly to Latin America, the Middle East, Japan, and European countries like Great Britain, Germany and France.
Chances are you have some leftover turrón in your pantry, and I encourage you to make this delicious mousse de turrón. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make, and how fast it disappears.
SPANISH NOUGAT MOUSSE
Mousse de Turrón
4 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 lb turrón de Jijona, soft nougat
1 oz turrón de Alicante, hard nougat (or 1 oz slivered toasted almonds)
In a blender, add the egg yolks, the cream and the soft nougat, and process until creamy.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the creamy nougat mixture to the egg whites, one tablespoon at a time, folding gently with a soft spatula after each addition.
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the hard nougat until crumbly.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip, fill the small bowls with the nougat mousse. Sprinkle with some of the hard nougat and refrigerate until ready to serve.