December 22, 2010
"La Crisis" cut so deep this year in Spain that my friends will first have to gather their lottery winnings before they can mail my year-end turrón supply. That said, I am not terribly worried about suffering a turrón-free 2011 because the chances of my nougat suppliers winning at least a little something in the Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad, to be drawn in Madrid tomorrow, is around 15 percent.
In lottery terms, if you buy a billete it's a cakewalk to win a piece of El Gordo, the big one: 0.0012 percent (one in 83,333). Virtually everyone in Spain plays the Christmas lottery. It's the biggest in the world in terms of total prize payout (a couple of billion Euros) and surely the most democratic.
What happens is this: the 85,000 lottery numbers each potentially represent such a big chunk of this rich pot that fractions (a series of 195 billetes or tickets for each number) and fractions of fractions (décimos or tenths) are sold and even smaller bits of those (participaciones) are divvied up amongst friends and co-workers. Which boils down to the fact that the winning number ends up being held by lots of people.
Besides the usual holiday-spirit-inflected things losers say, like, "Well, at least we have our health," people also like to note, "The prize certainly was bien repartido." Life is good when the winnings are well distributed.
Even anti-lottery types like me get a thrill when the chant of the winning numbers begins on TV. The children of the Colegio de San Idelfonso, which began as a school for orphans of civil servants, do this job. It starts out sweetly and three hours later sets teeth on edge.
One thing I truly love about the whole thing is how people don't say "Oh, if we win we'll just go on with our lives like always." I worked at a machinery manufacturing firm in Barcelona, a big, successful business that went back generations. While the machines his company built were admired at trade shows all over the world, Sr. Mateu, the owner's elderly father, still roamed around the factory floor. The company bought a whole number and gave us all shares.
"What will we do if we win?" I asked, counting on some kind of savvy Catalan businessman-type investment-oriented response. But no: "We'll shut this place down!" he said, eyes cheerier than I'd ever seen them. That honest, practical brand of seasonal hope warms my heart.
All this is to say that when, in my quest to figure out a homemade version of Alicante's famed almond and honey nougat, I came up with this smashing toasted almond praline semifreddo, I decided not worry about its ephemerality. Turrones will be mailed in due time.
This can be whipped together now, stashed in the freezer, and pulled out looking swanky for after Christmas or New Year's Eve dinner. And more so if you add a little cherry-port sauce on the side.
Semifreddo de Turrón—Frozen Almond Praline Nougat
1 cup raw almonds (5 oz.), skin on
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or a few drops of pure almond extract
a few drops of grapeseed oil for the pans
Heat the oven to 350F, spread the almonds on a baking sheet, and toast them for 5-10 minutes. Check and stir the almonds; you want them to smell toasty and look a shade darker. Set the toasted nuts aside, and when the baking sheet is cool, rub it with a little oil for the next step, the praline.
Meanwhile, line a standard loaf pan (about 8 x 5 inches) with plastic wrap, leaving several inches hanging over the sides––you'll wrap that over the semifreddo later. The plastic clings neatly to the pan if you rub a few drops of oil into the pan before you line it.
Melt 1/2 cup of the sugar (save the other 1/4 cup for the nougat) in a small, heavy saucepan, on medium heat. Don't bother to stir the sugar syrup––it will just clump up on your spoon––but give it a swirl now and then as it bubbles, until it takes on a deep caramel color.
Quickly stir in toasted almonds and turn the mixture onto the oiled baking sheet to cool.
Break the praline into a food processor and whirl until it is finely ground but not reduced to a paste: you want the finished dessert to have some crunch.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl until frothy (use a standing mixer if you have one; there's a lot of beating ahead).
In a saucepan, bring the honey to a boil; let it foam up as some of the water in it evaporates for a minute or so. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup sugar into the hot honey. Whisk and simmer the honey syrup another minute to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved, take it off the heat and, with the mixer running, pour it slowly into the frothed eggs. Beat this nougat at high speed until it is fluffy and cool, about 5 minutes. Beat in the extract and the zest.
In another bowl, whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Fold about one third of the whipped cream into the nougat mixture, then continue folding in the remaining cream. Gently fold in the praline.
Spoon the mixture into the lined loaf pan and cover it with the extra plastic wrap. Freeze until firm, at least four hours and up to 10 days.
Uncover and unmold the semifreddo onto a cutting board or platter. You'll either need to let it sit for a few minutes to thaw enough to loosen or dip the bottom of the pan in a sink full of hot water for just a second, then dry the pan and turn out the dessert.
Slice to serve. Sift a little good quality cocoa onto each plate. Or drizzle on some chocolate sauce. Dried cherries plumped up in a little port-sugar syrup are perfection with the almond flavor here.