Helen learned how to make nougat from a VHS cassette she found in the 1990s! It showed the Italian mother of an Australian chef called Marco Lori making her family’s famous torrone. Essentially the same thing as nougat, it’s known as torrone in Italy and nougat in France. It can range in texture from soft to firm, depending on how high you take the temperature of the sugar syrup: the higher the temperature, the harder the nougat. Ours falls into the soft-but-chewy camp: it’s still a little firm, but won’t break your teeth. You’ll know you’ve been on the right track when, 24 hours after it’s made, your nougat has a small amount of movement when pressed. It shouldn’t be too sticky and should hold its shape when cut.
Making your own nougat might seem a bit intimidating, but don’t be put off: the results are hugely rewarding and (as is always the case when cooking with sugar) it’s just about being organized and staying on top of temperatures and timings. The syrup needs to be at the correct temperature just as the egg whites reach soft peaks, and you’ll need to work fast, as the nougat firms up quickly once it’s been made.
(p 328, SWEET)
Makes 6 bars or 36 smaller pieces
2 sheets (31 x 23cm) edible rice paper (or wafer paper, made from potato starch; or baking parchment)
400g whole raw almonds, skin on
260g whole blanched hazelnuts
2 tbsp whole aniseed (optional)
300g caster sugar
270g liquid glucose
60g orange blossom honey (or another floral variety)
25ml Pernod or ouzo (or another aniseed liqueur)
Scraped seeds of 1 vanilla pod
1/8 tsp salt
95g egg whites (from 3 medium eggs)
- Line the base of a 23 x 24cm baking tin with baking parchment and grease the edges of the tin. Lay one sheet of rice paper, smooth side down, on top of the parchment paper – the edges of the paper will rise up the shorter sides of the tin – then set the tin aside.
- Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C Fan/Gas Mark 3. Spread all the nuts out on a baking tray and roast for 18 minutes, until they are fragrant and golden brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 90°C/70°C Fan/Gas Mark ¼ and leave the nuts in the oven until ready to fold into the nougat: the mix will seize up if the nuts are added cold.
- Place the aniseed, if using, in a medium heavy-based saucepan and toast over a medium heat for 2 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer to a pestle and mortar, lightly crush and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, glucose, honey, Pernod or ouzo, vanilla seeds and salt, and whisk to combine. Place over a medium heat and simmer gently until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat to mediumhigh. Resisting the urge to stir, continue to cook for about 15–20 minutes, until the temperature on a sugar thermometer is close to reaching 118°C. At this stage, place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and whisk on medium speed to form soft peaks. Keep an eye on the boiling syrup and, when the temperature on the thermometer registers exactly 121°C, pour half of the hot syrup into the soft peaks in a steady stream. Continue to whisk on a medium speed and return the remaining half of the syrup to the heat.
- Continue to simmer the remaining syrup until the temperature reaches exactly 145°C, taking care that it does not go over 148°C. Once the temperature is reached, pour the hot syrup – it will be light golden at this stage – over the egg whites in a steady stream, whisking all the time. Continue to whisk for another 6–8 minutes, until you have a thick ribbon-like consistency. To check if it is ready, take a little of the mixture between your fingers and press together then pull apart: the mix should stick together like chewing gum. Using a plastic spatula or large metal spoon, fold through the aniseed and warm nuts. You need to be careful here, as the bowl of the machine will still be hot. Scrape the mixture into the lined baking tin and even out with an offset or regular spatula or palette knife.
- Cover the surface with some more rice paper, smooth side up, and press down firmly to remove any air bubbles. Set aside to cool overnight, uncovered or with a clean, dry tea towel draped over the top, then slide a hot knife around the edges to remove it from the tin. Cut into 6 long bars (23 x 4cm), if giving as gifts, or into smaller squares.