So I have this list of kitchen challenges. Yes, one of those, and a thing that I’ve really been itching to try out is Nougat de Montélimar (“fransk nougat” in Danish). Waaay back in the ancient and vaseline-lensed days of my childhood, my mother would get these flat round tins of turrón/torrone from work, which is the Spanish/Italian version of what you can see above. Roasted almonds enveloped in a glossy, meringue-adjacent honey boil-up of chewy-hard deliciousness. Hell, anything that needs three hyphens for a description must be good, right? My fingers (“the old flippers” as my grandmother would have said) certainly made the trip to the candy plate about a gazillion times, when I served the first round of homemade nougat this Sunday.
I used the recipe from The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts (more about this below) and since it’s already in English, I can hardly print it here with the excuse of a translation. But feel free to email me if you want the recipe privately. Still, I’d like to share a few learnings with you, in case you feel like giving it a stab too:
First of all I made half a recipe (one egg white, 320 grams of nuts, 300 grams of sugar etc) and that yielded something like 90 1*3 cm pieces, which is plenty. Not that they weren’t eaten at a crazy speed, but the mixing and slicing part is quite hard on the hands if you’re anything like me and don’t have a KitchenAid.
And a word of warning: You might want to ask your partner or friend to stay close, in case you need them. The recipe calls for some serious timing and focus as you will be juggling four things at once (yet again: if you have a KitchenAid or something similar you are much better off): beating egg whites, roasting nuts in the oven, keeping an eye on two separate saucepans with sugary fluids which need to reach each their high temperature. So: Take the mise en place seriously and line ingredients and equipment up before you start, and make sure that your thermometer is working. And if you also live in a country where corn syrup is not very common, you can use “glukosesirup” instead (most larger supermarkets stock some from either Morten Heiberg or DanSukker).
Finally, the recipe called for corn starch I believe, to cover the finished nougat pieces so they don’t stick together. I used rice paper/rice wafers from Austria (they’re called “Back Oblaten” and look like this) for the top and bottom of the nougat. I had placed some sheets on my baking paper in advance and dumped the hot nougat onto it and rolled it to a 1-1,5 cm thick plate before I placed more sheets on top and gave the baking pin another roll. The sheets worked like a charm and gave the finished pieces a professional look as well as kept them from sticking.
All in all, a bit of a challenge timing-wise, but quite fast (took me about 80 mins to finish them) and extremely satisfying result-wise. Next time I’m going to beat the egg whites a tiny bit less and watch the thermometer a bit better as the numbers on mine start skipping with five temperatures in-between the dots from 120 degrees Celcius and up. That makes a helluva difference in this game. Make sure you check yours in advance too.
And a couple of hallelujahs for the book:
First of all: The book is great. It’s the one I’ve been looking for all my life. We’ve only just started dating, but I already find myself at work, yearning to be near it, to spoon it at night and wake up early just to watch it sleeping.
Just to mention a few of its qualities:
* Every recipe starts with “Prepare your mise en place” which is sufficiently pretentious and professional for anyone with ambitions of becoming a pastry chef but enough sense not to follow through (if you’re wondering why, read this wonderful post from BraveTart).
* At the end of each recipe is a list of testing criteria for the final product: A well-executed tart should be crumbly but not hard, golden and sweet etc. If it is too hard, you may have overbaked it, too soft, underbaked etc. (Just my wording, obviously they’re much more detailed and technical than this).
* There are plenty of basic techniques for mousses, fillings, toppings, trimmings, tart shells, dough-types etc. as well as specific pastry recipes where you can apply these techniques, e.g.: I made a Paris-Brest, which combines the basic recipe for choux-pastry, egg wash and a mousse. They suggested a butter cream but I opted for some coffee-chocolate mousse.
* Most of the recipes (though sadly not all as far as I can tell) are illustrated with appetising and practical photos.