One of my fondest Christmas season memories is the utter excitement the day the parcel from Abuelita, my paternal grandmother, arrived. No doubt fueled by the memory of sugar-highs past, we would tear into the box, full of exotic smells and sweet treats. Among the treasures were the kid faves like bags of “China” orange candies with a gooey center, candy cigarettes with the painted-on pink ember (indeed!), “piñones” (candy coated pinenuts), marrons glacés (swoon!), and an assortment of Spanish turrones. Guirlache is part of the turrón family, but not one we ever tasted as kids. I discovered it when I lived in Salamanca, Spain, during college.
Spanish “turrón” comprises a whole world of delicious sweets. Made mostly from almonds and honey (guirlache, jijona) or almonds, honey and eggs (alicante), traditional turrones are probably of arabic, medieval origin. There are many modern variations now that have moved far beyond this mighty ingredient trio, however, I am particularly fond of the tradtional versions that have such deep roots in the Iberian peninsula’s history.
Guirlache is so easy to make, and its flavors outstanding. The deep caramelization of the sugars provide a wonderful bitterness to counter the sweet. The anise liqueur and seed add a slightly exotic flavor dimension.
Special (optional) ingredients
Marcona Almonds (raw, unsalted)
Candy coated anís seeds- If you are not using wafer paper, these are a really nice addition. I have a hard time deciding whether I like the streamlined look of the wafer paper, or the extra flavor kick of the anise candies. Your choice! Sugared fennel is pretty common, but sugared anise is harder to come by. De Ruyter, a Dutch company, makes both anise “hagel” (anise flavored sugar sprinkles, available on Amazon), and anise “muisjes” (candy coated aniseed, and harder to find, but worth it if you can).
Set a dry towel and place a piece of wafer paper on it. Have a second piece of wafer paper at the ready
1# marcona almonds, lightly toasted in moderate oven
2T anís liqueur
In a heavy bottomed pot, add sugar, honey and liqueur and heat on med-high heat.With a wooden spoon, help the ingredients mix as the heat softens and melts them.
Sugars will caramelize quite quickly, and reach a dark, mahogany color (on a candy thermometer this is about 165F)
Add the butter and stir in.
Add the almonds and aniseed. Combine well. With the addition of cooler ingredients (like the almonds) the caramel may stiffen up. Keep it moving. You may keep the heat on low to prevent too much cooling.
Pour the coated almond mixture onto the prepared wafer paper and, working quickly and gently, push the nuts to the edges as best possible. When you have achieved an even layer, place the second wafer paper on top. Carefully smooth and even out the guirlache with a rolling pin.
Allow the guirlache to cool down. When it is warm but not hot, slide it off the towel and on to a cutting surface. Using a long, sharp knife, cut into 5 or 6 even strips. A bit of butter on the knife blade is helpful.
Allow to cool fully, and enjoy!
No wafer paper?
If you are making this without waferpaper, simply press the hot coated nuts into a lightly buttered pan. If you can find candied aniseed, sprinkle it on top for decoration and added flavor.