Question for chemists and candy-makers
Last year I tried a recipe (see below) for torrone from _Martha Stewart Living_. It was such a hit I had to keep making more, and every time, it came out great. The texture was just right--firm but not too hard. So I tried it again this year...and it came out really soft and sticky. I'm certain that I cooked the syrup long enough, and the weather probably wasn't a factor (I live in Seattle, it's *always* rainy and damp in December!) I did do a couple of things different this time, but I didn't expect either to make a difference. But obviously, something did!
First--I had three leftover egg whites that had been in the freezer for a couple of days. Since I couldn't separate out just two, I increased all the other ingredients by 50% to make a batch and a half.
Second--My only complaint last year was that beating the mixture for ten minutes meant that it got really cool and stiff in the bowl, and was difficult to turn out and spread in the pan. So this time, I beat it for only five minutes. I thought that might decrease the volume, but not the firmness.
Any more experienced candy-makers or food chemists want to help me figure out what made the difference?
You can see the whole recipe at http://www.casagordita.com/torrone.htm .
I agree with Ruth. You stopped beating the syrup before the sugar had completely re-crystallized.
The process you are using is essentially the same as that used is sugar mills for the refining of cane juice into sugar except that your syrup has no molasses in it.
The simple version: the sugar in the syrup (massacuite, containing molasses in the mill) is completely melted and as that is centrifuged in the mill (or in your home mixer), the crystals reform in increasingly smaller form as the temperature drops. Ultimately, you should have very small crystals (similar to castor sugar) bound only by a light coating of "mother liquor." (In the mill, this would be melted again and the process repeated several times until the final product is relatively dry.) Your torrone needs some of that syrup to hold it together but by stopping too soon, you had too much syrup in proportion to the crystals and hence the sticky texture. The crystals might also have still been too large. The right balance of the very fine crystals and the lightest binding of syrup will produce the fine textured torrone you want. Only patience will do that. You could actually melt it and start over as long as you do not allow the syrup to caramelize.
I agree with meta -- as I've learned from years of fudge making, the beating is a surprisingly important step that affects every aspect of the finished product. I'm not sure exactly what the mechanism is, but it has something to do with the way the sugar re-crystallizes as it cools.
I think your problem is that you didn't beat it long enough for it to cool. The process for making it work is that you want to whisk at high speed for a long time to get it to cool and firm up. You then have to work quickly once you get it to the right firmness because it wants to set up at that point. Shortcutting that process is what kept it from working for you this time.