It’s “purple month” in Lima. One of the most sacred traditions in the city is the procession of El Señor de los Milagros, or “Lord of Miracles”, and his devotees wear purple robes for the whole month of October. This is how it works: you make a spectacular request to the Lord of Miracles (curing someone terminally ill, finding a job, getting pregnant…whatever it may be), and the way you pay him is by dressing in purple throughout October, and going to the processions that take place all over the city.
Legend says that in 1655, an Angolan slave painted the image in the estate where he worked. Soon after, many of the slaves and other people started gathering around this place to pray and honor the Lord. Ecclesiastical authorities ordered to cover the image, and sent people to paint the wall with quicklime, but every time, the image emerged brighter and cleaner. It not only survived the many attempts to cover it, but also the violent earthquakes that plagued Lima at the time, so by word of mouth, faith in the sacred image grew like foam.
Now, let´s talk about this recipe. Just like Halloween and Valentine’s day are big commercial dates in the US, the procession of the Lord of Miracles is a big event for street vendors and stores. turrón de Doña Pepa is the typical dessert eaten everywhere in Lima during the purple month, and even though it can now be found year-round in big stores, it was originally prepared only in October, and still is sold mostly in this month.
As the story tells, Josefa Marmanillo was a slave who had a strange disease that paralyzed her arms. This disease freed her from slavery, but at the same time left her unable to earn a living. She started attending the processions to ask for her health back, which she eventually did get, and as a thank you gift she created this sweet. So far so good. Where the story starts becoming psychedelic, just like the look of this candy-covered dessert, is in the part where she raised the dessert with her arms in one of the processions, and the Lord of Miracles smiled back at her and blessed the offering. She passed the tradition of preparing turrón for this special time of year to her daughters, granddaughters, and generations to come.
To be completely honest with you, my first attempt at making it for this post was a total mess. The dough was too soft and the pastry sticks grew like baguettes in the oven (I’m not kidding), and even though I added 20 more minutes of baking time, they never turned crispy nor golden. They were pale and inedible. What a waste of time and ingredients! However, I was determined to find a good recipe to share here, so I just kept trying and taking notes of all the process.
A good turrón should dissolve in your mouth if it has the ideal texture. It’s very similar to making pie dough, but the flour is combined with sesame seeds, and the water must have achiote to add color, and anise seeds for flavor. The recipe uses lard, which I´ve substituted with shortening, and actually, most of the cooks I know use shortening too. Lard gives the perfect crumbly texture though.
Once you have the pastry sticks ready, you can assemble the turrón in 5 minutes, adding the thick and glossy syrup at room temperature, like you see in the pictures. Of course, you can buy turrón by the kilogram in every corner of Lima, so why bother doing it? Nevertheless, if once in a blue moon you feel the inspiration, or if you’re abroad and want to bring back those memories or surprise people with a very different kind of dessert (although it can be found in many Latin grocery stories outside of Peru too), bake it at home and you will be rewarded with a delicious freshly-made festive treat.
Turrón de Doña Pepa
- 1lb cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 egg yolks
- 8 oz. (about 1 cup) vegetable shortening, very cold and cut in pieces
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon anise seeds
- 2 oz anise liquor
- Candy sprinkles
- 2 pieces of molasses
- 2 quinces
- Rind of 1 orange
- 6 cloves
- 2 cups water
*Preheat the oven to 350F.
*Put anise seeds in a cup and pour boiling water over them. Put in the fridge until very cold.
*In the working bowl of a food processor, pulse five or six times until everything looks like coarse oatmeal: flour, salt, and shortening. Transfer the mixtureto a bowl and add the egg yolks, anise liquor and anise water, and sesame seeds. Add anise water, tablespoon-by-tablespoon, mixing with a fork, until the dough holds together without being crumbly. Put in the fridge until ready to use.
*Divide in small portions (I used an ice cream scoop so all the pieces were the same size.)
*Take a small portion of the dough and roll over a floured table, to form a long cylinder, like one finger thick and 10inches long. Repeat with all the dough. Put the sticks in a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly golden.
*Meanwhile, prepare the syrup: Chop the molasses and pour in a saucepan with the fruit, cinnamon, and cloves. Add water and bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and continue cooking, undisturbed, until it is thick and syrupy. Be careful because it overflows when it’s boiling. Strain and let cool.
*Cover a baking sheet with parchment. Take ¼ of the pastry sticks and put them horizontally, one next to the other. Cover withlots of syrup. Make another layer of pastry sticks, now vertically, and again cover with syrup. Repeat with the rest of the sticks and syrup.
Pour syrup all over the turron, sprinkle with candies, and voilà!! Your turrón de Doña Pepa is ready to go!!