Nougat de Montélimar
For me the pleasure in giving something that you have made is far greater than a desperate lunge at a gift that you think is appropriate. It’s a way of giving the gift of time and effort rather than just dashing to the nearest department store checkout.
As with last week’s panforte, this classic French nougat can be made in advance and left delicately wrapped in cellophane under the Christmas tree.
I have always had a little love–hate relationship with nougat. I first came across it as a small child. Family friends had returned from Europe, just in time for Christmas, and presented my sister and me each with a beautiful little wooden box. I was a greedy child, and had an insatiable appetite for chocolate, so I was very excited with my little box from France, presuming it was full of chocolate. When I opened it and was confronted with rice paper-wrapped white stuff, I was terribly disappointed and not a fan.
As an apprentice chef I tried to make nougat a couple of times and failed, further feeding my distrust and dislike of nougat. Both my tastes and I have matured a bit and it is now something I really love, both in the making and the eating.
Compared with last week’s panforte, it does take a little more skill and judgement to make.
My tips are to have all the ingredients and trays laid out and prepared in advance, use a candy thermometer and make sure your nuts are beautifully toasted. You will also need a strong stand mixer to do the mixing for you. And don’t try to make it on a sweltering, humid day. Humidity and egg-white work are sworn enemies.
Nougat is common in Middle Eastern cuisine and Italian cuisine, but this version originated in the south of France. It’s chewy and more-ish, so be careful when you’re getting into the Christmas spirit in your kitchen that you remember you are making it to give away. Otherwise your stomach may be full but your stockings empty.
Nougat de Montélimar
– 1kg almonds, skin on
– 100g pistachios
– 500g honey
– 400g sugar
– 4 egg whites
– 100g icing sugar
Preheat your oven to 200ºC. Roast the almonds and pistachios by spreading them on a baking sheet and putting them in the oven for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to ensure they are toasted evenly.
Spray a 31-centimetre x 34-centimetre baking tray with cooking spray and line it with rice paper.
In a bain-marie or double boiler heat the honey, stirring constantly. In another pan, combine the sugar with a quarter-cup of water, stir over a low heat until the sugar starts to dissolve and then turn the heat up and boil, aiming for 121-130ºC.
Once the sugar reaches the right temperature, add it carefully to the honey avoiding burns from the molten mixture. Keep the heat constant and continue to stir until it reaches 138-143ºC. Remove from the heat and proceed with the next step.
In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff and then add the honey and sugar mixture a little at a time. The nougat will begin to thicken almost immediately as it cools. Keep the mixer speed at medium to high as you are putting air and fluffy chewiness into the mixture here. It will begin to form a ball around the beater and have a very thick consistency like taffy after six to eight minutes. At this point, add the warm nuts and icing sugar.
After mixing the nuts and sugar into the mixture, pour it into the prepared pan. It will be thick and you may need help removing it. Smooth the nougat and cover with a sheet of rice paper. Smooth out the nougat with a rolling pin. It will begin to harden almost immediately so smooth it as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about perfection as a nice rustic quality is the aim.
Allow the nougat to cool overnight or, if you’re in a hurry, for at least three hours. I like to weight mine to get a compressed finish.
Unmould the nougat onto a cutting board and cut into strips and then into the size you want. Wrap the pieces in cellophane or wax paper and they’ll keep for a while – or, at the very least, until Christmas Day.
NV Gosset Grande Reserve brut, Champagne, France ($85) – Peter Watt, sommelier, du Fermier.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 16, 2017 as "Sticky beating". Subscribe here.