Turrón is one of Spain’s most prized sweets and has been in production under that name since the beginning of the 18th century. It’s said that a master confectioner by the name of Pablo Turrons invented this delectable concoction of almonds and honey in Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession as a survival ration for the besieged city. That said, it’s more likely this sweet was brought to Spain by its Arab conquerors. It was produced in Jijona long before Pablo Turrons’ assertion of invention – albeit under the name of halvo – and records exist of it being sold as a delicacy in Valencia as early as the 16th century.
Jijona remains the main centre of turrón production to this day. The prized confection is made virtually the same way it has been for centuries (although much of the packaging is now done mechanically) by a highly skilled, hawk-eyed turronero.
About 20km south of Jijona is Alicante. Hard Alicante turrón – turrón duro – is made by simmering chopped roasted almonds and honey over a constant heat and stirring the mixture with large wooden spoons. Eggwhite is added to bind the mixture that, when cooled sufficiently, is hand-cut into portions and sandwiched between sheets of rice paper.
To make soft Jijona turrón – turrón blando – this cooled block of turrón duro is ground with almond oil to form a glutinous paste, which is reheated and beaten by a machine for hours into a soft mixture. It is then bound with eggwhite, cooled in square metal containers and finally cut into golden slabs.
Purists maintain there are only these two types of turrón, but modern versions abound, containing hazelnuts, pine nuts, chocolate, candied fruit or coconut, among other ingredients. The version you see here – turrón guirlache – consists of whole almonds, coated and bound with darkly caramelised sugar to form a sort of brittle. Ultra-fresh almonds, being the star of the show, are a must. Ensure no sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan as you cook the caramel (have a jug of water and a pastry brush at the ready) to avoid crystallisation. Tempting though it may be, don’t dip your finger into the mixture to taste it – it’s incredibly hot. Patience is a virtue, so they say, and this sweet treat is definitely worth the wait.