Making Pistachio Nougat

I like giving gifts that I’ve made in the kitchen. They show you’ve put thought, time and effort into something, and if you’ve done it well, what you’ve produced can often be better than something store bought. There are loads of gifts you can make; previously I’ve done mead, limoncello, Bailey’s and white chocolate fudge, biscotti, flavoured oils and vinegars, and chocolates, for a sample of ideas. The latest gift idea I wanted to try out was nougat- I think a box of home-made nougat is a great present- and making nougat would be a chance to develop some confectionery skills too.

As I found out when making it, nougat is essentially a super dense meringue. You make nougat in the same way you might make an Italian meringue (the kind of meringue you might use for icing cakes or baked Alaska), by heating up some sugary syrup and whisking into some whipped egg whites. There are two key differences though.

Firstly, with Italian meringue, the sugar syrup is heated up to the “soft ball stage”, around 115°C, where as in making nougat, a sugar syrup-honey combination is heated up to the “soft crack stage”, around 143°C. This extra heating changes the sugar concentration of the sugar syrup from 85% to 95%, and so the syrup is denser with sugar crystals, creating a denser end product.

The second key difference is the ratio of egg white to sugar syrup. In an Italian meringue, you use 4 egg whites to 250g sugar, but with nougat, it’s 2 egg whites to around 550g of sugar. Again, this ratio means you have a much higher sugar concentration, and hence a much denser end product. Using honey in the sugar syrup in nougat is really just for flavouring: honey has a similar composition to sugar syrup (17% water, 83% sugar by weight).

While we are talking about the science of nougat, it is worth mentioning the addition of liquid glucose. When the sugar syrup cools, sugar crystals begin to form. If left to their own devices, they will form larger crystals which will result in a coarse texture of nougat. The liquid glucose prevents these larger crystal from forming “by bonding temporarily to the crystal surface and blocking the way of sucrose molecules” (Harold McGee, ‘McGee on Food and Cooking’). This means smaller crystals form making for a smoother, finer, more desirable nougat. Liquid glucose is also frequently used in ice-cream and sorbet making for the same reason. On to making the nougat.

It’s tough to make nougat without the use of an electric mixer. The reason is that one of the main stages of the recipe is pouring the 143°C sugar syrup into the whisked egg white. If you aren’t whisking very quickly while you do this, the sugar just forms lumps of cooled sugar, which then don’t mix with the egg white at all. I’ve tried using other electric whisks to incorporate the syrup previously as well, but these also tend to end up in failure as the sugar syrup solidifies on the blades of the whisk, and so the blades jam, and then you don’t have time to un-jam the blades before the sugar syrup cools again. Don’t let this problem put you off attempting to make some nougat yourself, but if you do, be very careful at this stage to incorporate the sugar syrup into the egg white properly.

The recipe I’ve used here is from The Home-Made Sweet Shop. Once you’ve made the basic nougat, the pistachios and almonds which are added at the end are easily interchangeable with other nuts, dried or candied fruits, or anything else that takes your fancy. The recipe also states that the nougat takes 4 hours to set; mine took a lot longer (2 days). I’m still trying to figure out quite why, as it did set properly eventually, but if you are going to give it as a gift, make sure you’ve made it a little in advance.

Pistachio Nougat

Ingredients:
375g caster sugar
25g liquid glucose
100ml water
175g honey
2 egg whites
200g shelled pistachios
200g whole almonds
5ml orange blossom water
Rice paper (I used greaseproof paper)

Instructions:
1. Whisk the egg whites with 25g of the caster sugar in an electric mixer until you get firm peaks.
2. Line a baking tray with rice paper.
3. Put the honey in one saucepan, and the mixed liquid glucose, water, and sugar in another. Heat the sugar and water to the soft crack stage at 143°C. Bring the honey to the boil, and once it has reached this point, add to the sugar syrup and bring the mixture back to 143°C.
4. With the whisk on full speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites, incorporating it as well as possible. At the end, you should end up with a stiff, glossy, homogeneous mixture.
5. Fold in pistachios, almonds, and orange blossom water.
6. With a spatula, spread the mixture onto the baking tray, cover with another piece of rice paper, and leave to set. This will take sometime between 4 hours and 2 days. Don’t leave the nougat somewhere where there are strong aromas, as the nougat with absorb these and taste off.
7. Once the nougat has set, cut into pieces. The nougat should last about a week, possibly more in an airtight container.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Making Rhubarb and Custard Sweets « oxfood
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  4. Trackback: Treats: nougat from Turku | Happy Sushi Belly

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