As I mentioned in my recent post on dolci delle feste, every region of Italy has specific traditions: torciglione is a tradition of my region, Umbria. As a child, I ate occasionally the one made by a family friend.
When Jeremy of DoBianchi wrote a comment on fagiolina del Trasimeno mentioning the anguilla (eel) traditionally fished in the lake, I was reminded of torciglione. I knew that its shape is supposed to represent the snakelike fish. I was also reminded of the fact that, unlike eel, I liked torciglione a lot, so I decided to try to make it for the upcoming holiday season. (As an aside, it is actually possible to buy torciglione during the year.)
The main ingredients of torciglione are almonds (mandorle), sugar (zucchero) and egg whites (albumi). I looked for some recipes, then made up my first version using 300 g of almonds and 200 g of sugar (in the recipes I read, the quantity of sugar was higher). I then made a second version with even less sugar, 170 g. I liked that better than its predecessor. At this point, I read a post on torciglione by Salsadisapa of qualcosa di rosso: her recipe had even less sugar, so I felt justified in further reducing the amount I would use for my third version. Another important characteristic of her recipe was the lack of flour, an ingredient that I had also reduced to a couple of tablespoonfuls. I am very thankful to Salsadisapa for this detail and for the exchange we had on the topic.
A handful of bitter almonds is added to the sweet ones, but I cannot find bitter almonds, so I skip that ingredient. I like to use vanilla sugar (i.e., sugar that is stored in a jar with vanilla beans) and just a hint of grated lemon zest to add nuanced flavor.
- 300 g (10.5 oz.) almonds, blanched, peeled, dried in the oven at 300 F and cooled
- 125 g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) [vanilla] sugar
- a bit of grated lemon zest
- 2 large egg whites
- pine nuts (pinoli), two coffee beans (chicchi di caffè) and an almond slice for the decoration
Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Chop the almonds in the food processor, together with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and the lemon zest. Do not pulverize the almonds: the granules give a nice varied texture to the final product. (I hope that the close-up gives a sense of what I mean here.) Place almonds in a bowl, add the remaining sugar and mix. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently fold them in the almond mix (the latter will become wet and sticky). Pour on the baking sheet and shape into a snake. Decorate as you like. This is the fun part. In my version, coffee beans become the snake's eyes and an almond slice its tongue, rigorously, and impertinently sticking out of its mouth. I use a spatula to make short slits on both sides and finally align pine nuts on the back of my torciglione. I guess that makes it vaguely reminiscent of an iguana.
Bake until golden. Check after 30 minutes and gauge the remaining baking time. I usually need about 35 minutes. Let the torciglione cool thoroughly before slicing it. The outer layer is crisp, the inner core softer, with texture provided by the crunchy almonds: each morsel is a delight.
I would like to thank Jeremy of DoBianchi for inspiring me to replicate this small piece of my childhood. As I was finishing the writing of this post, I received news regarding Jeremy and his group's (Nous Non Plus) new record Ménagerie: congratulations!
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the torciglione audio file [mp3].