The main square in Pristina was transformed today into a ‘Taste Europe’ street fair to celebrate Europe Day, a public holiday in Kosovo. Passers-by were offered a smart recipe book with something traditional from every country in Europe, and the Italian contribution to that was a startlingly simple recipe for torrone.
The recipe has four ingredients and five lines – it sounded like the sort of thing one could fit in during an evening with minimal preparation, and I had happy memories of the nougat-like torrone which I had eaten in Italy.
So first you have to ‘dissolve the honey on a low heat’. It wasn’t clear what you should ‘dissolve’ it in, so I thought this was a Europe Day mistranslation of ‘melt’. I put the honey in a saucepan on the hob and waited till it was fully liquid. Easy.
Next, ‘combine honey with two egg whites’. That sounded strange to me, as I had assumed that you’d need to whip the egg-whites, but I’m an obedient cook. I combined them. As predicted, the egg turned to shreds in the warm honey, making something like Chinese soup.
According to my recipe this all gets mixed with caramelised sugar and almonds and is left to cool. I did exactly as I was told and ended up with… a sticky mess. Admittedly, it’s a sticky mess I am sitting here picking my way through, but what it certainly is not is torrone.
I did some googling. There is a competent, authoritative article on torrone here. It begins ‘it’s an ancient sweet that requires considerable skill and care to make well’. It goes on, ‘preparing torrone at home is not easy; one needs exercise great care in the cooking, stirring the ingredients constantly to obtain a well-amalgamated mixture. Begin by cooking the honey for an hour over a double boiler’. And yes, of course the egg white should be whipped.
It’s annoying. It’s also wonderful material for political satire on Europe Day. But actually, as I sit here picking at sweetened almonds and a tantalisingly resistant lump of honey goo (avoiding the egg shreds) I actually feel rather happy about my evening’s amateur chemistry. There’s a dizzying smell of sugar in the air and all my spoons have turned into little golden lollipops. My kkkeyboarrrrrd is tacky in unfortunate places, and I am no nearer a piece of nougat than Kosovo is to EU membership, but the stirring and steaming and stickiness has made it an enjoyable few hours of experiment.