The age-old question: Hard turrón or soft turrón? Made from almonds, these are the two classic nougat sweets that are a must-have on any self-respecting Christmas table. In Madrid you can find both of them and lots of other versions in patisseries whose ovens are busy working overtime these days. Happy and sweet holidays!
It’s no easy task to persuade a century-old bakery like Casa Mira (Carrera de San Jerónimo, 30) to open its doors so that we can see how they produce their star product: turrón. They don’t need to worry though, we won’t be revealing any secrets of their recipe, although what we can say is that everything they make in their bakery, is done by hand. It’s not an easy job, quite the opposite. It takes a long time to get the taste and the texture of this traditional sweet just right, but no Christmas Eve celebration would be the same without it.
Bearing in mind that two of its main ingredients are honey and almonds – Marcona almonds are the best – it’s not hard to imagine that this dessert, or indeed treat to be enjoyed at any time of day, comes from Arabic countries. We know that it has been eaten in the Peninsula since the 16th century, which is when it appears for the first time in a number of written documents. It is mainly produced in Alicante – hard turrón bears its name -, especially in Jijona, the universal flagship of soft nougat.
A native of this town in Alicante, master craftsman Luis Mira decided to try his luck in Madrid, so he headed off for the capital with a cart pulled by two donkeys and loaded down with turrón. The story goes that he had to start his journey over again on at least four occasions as the turrón always sold out well before he even reached Albacete, a city located not even half way to the Spanish capital. The fact is that he finally made it to Madrid and it’s thanks to him that we still have today the same Casa Mira that he founded in 1855. The extraordinary quality of the raw material and its careful elaboration made the fame of his turrón spread quickly all over the city until he became the official purveyor of turrón to the Royal Household. Today, with Carlos Ibáñez at the helm, the sixth generation of the family is intent on continuing the family tradition.
When you walk through the door of this establishment, it seems that nothing has changed, just look at those walls covered with mahogany and mirrors from another era! Glass counters are a real temptation, as is the wheel that turns the products and has the honour of being one of the oldest in Madrid. Although you can buy the turrón ready packed, what the locals do is buy their turrón in slices. The most popular types are of course the turrón from Alicante and Jijona, but there are also other varieties, such as hazelnut, almond brittle, egg yolk, fruit, marzipan, coconut and chocolate. And what do the experts recommend you pair them with? Well, a generous wine will complement them beautifully or perhaps, for the more orthodox, an oloroso port or sherry.
Founded in 1830, the Antigua Pastelería del Pozo (Calle Pozo, 8) offers another journey through time. You only have to look at the photo dedicated by Jacinto Benavente, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1922, or the chair in which Gregorio Marañón used to sit, to sense that this is a place with history. Although they specialise in puff pastries and “Roscones de Reyes” (Spain’s famous ring-shaped cake made specially to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings), you shouldn’t miss their handmade nougat. In addition to the traditional ones, they offer two really successful versions: orange and “turrón a la piedra”, stone nougat, which is similar to soft turrón but has a consistency more similar to that of “polvorones”, a kind of shortbread.
With its all-wood façade, this establishment is located on the street just behind Lhardy (Carrera de San Jerónimo, 8), which is a delicatessen as well as a restaurant. Lhardy opened his establishment in 1839 and as Galdós famously said, he came to Madrid “came to dress bakery goods in their Sunday best”. In those days, the object of desire was his petit-choux, the éclairs, the croissants… But also, his very own hand-made turrón, which is sold today in bars. It goes without saying that they have turrón from Alicante and Jijona, although perhaps we should be a little more adventurous and try the pistachio praline, the marrón glacé or the orange à la Cointreau.
Madrid is home to many more patisseries where you can buy handmade and quite different types of turrón. La Oriental (Calle Ferraz, 49) has been making Christmas even sweeter Madrileños for more than 40 years. The most successful as far as their fans are concerned? The turrón from Jijona and the toasted yolk variety. If you like the latter variety then you should also visit the Cala-Millor patisseries (Calle Fermín Caballero, 70; Calle Leopoldo Alas Clarín, 8; Calle Cerro Miguete, 14), where they have been preparing them in their bakery since 1978. Their varied offer includes coconut, orange, praline and truffle, whiskey… And for chocolate addicts, a must-visit turrón temple is Moulin Chocolat (Alcalá, 77). Whether you prefer it crunchy or more creamy, with more or less intensity, all the turrón they make here contains the best Valrhona chocolate and a number of other ingredients, such as almonds, berries, coffee and raisins, apple and cinnamon or Sicilian orange.
For this festive period, truffled nougat is one of the specialties at the Horno de San Onofre (Calle San Onofre, 3) where, in addition to the classic turrón made with Marcona almonds, we can also find varieties such as cream and walnut, cappuccino, a very sweet and smooth one, another with a touch of syrup, or pailleté, with puff pastry inside. For those with a sweet tooth, we have yet another address: Torrons Vicens (Paseo del Prado, 10), which happens to be the largest turrón shop in the world! A whole Christmas paradise to triumph at home with Albert Adrià’s totally surprising offerings. Among them, the baklava, inspired by the Turkish dessert of the same name, or the Sacher, which reminds us of the legendary Viennese torte thanks to its nitrogen seal, akin to the original dessert, with which each piece is lacquered. Shaped like an ingot, it is made from dark chocolate truffle with an apricot pâte de fruits and a crunchy sponge cake. Impossible to resist.