If you've ever traveled to the South of France or had the good fortune of trying the local confection Nougat de Montélimar you know that once you take a bite of that chewy bar filled with the heady taste of honey and the crunch of roasted pistachios and almonds, you're hooked. In France there are 2 kinds of nougat: Nougat de Montélimar, which is on the softer side and white from being made with egg whites, and Nougatine, which is darker and made with caramelized sugar. It often has a firmer consistency with more crunch.
This recipe is for the lighter, chewier version. When my aunt and I made this recipe we were inundated by some rogue bees who were drawn to the wafting scent of the heated honey being beaten and fluffed. And although not difficult to make, in theory (the recipe is straightforward), the process is all about timing. Don't attempt this without a candy thermometer or a stand mixer as the temperature of the honey and sugar is a huge part of the chemistry of the confection and a hand mixer is not likely to have enough power. Also local lore dictates to only attempt the recipe on a dry day — if it's cloudy they say the honey will not fluff.
Nougat de Montélimar
Makes a 9x13 pan of candy to divide into pieces
Wafer paper (to line top and bottom of pan): sometimes called rice paper, it's an edible paper that will stick to both sides of the candy. It's available through stores like this one.
Non-stick cooking spray
(use a kitchen scale and grams if you can, otherwise we've made conversions)
1 kilogram almonds (2 pounds or about 4 cups)
100 grams pistachios (3.5 ounces or 1/2 cup)
500 grams honey (2 1/4 cups)
400 grams sugar (2 cups)
4 egg whites
100 grams powdered sugar (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Roast the almonds and pistachios: here's our method but generally speaking spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure they toast evenly.
Spray the pan with cooking spray and line it with the wafer paper.
In a bain marie or double boiler (our method is to fill a medium saucepan a third full of water and then place a smaller saucepan within that one. The bottom of the small pan sits in the water that is being heated) heat the honey, stirring constantly. In another pan, heat the sugar, aiming for 250-265°F. Once it reaches the right temperature, add it to the honey (being careful not to burn yourself!). Keep the heat constant and continue to stir the mixture until it reaches 280-290°F.
In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks (see a visual guide to this here) and then add the honey/sugar mixture a little at a time and carefully (this is where the bees inundated us). The mixture should begin to thicken almost immediately as it cools. Keep the mixer at medium to high (our KitchenAid had to battle the thickness of the ball of nougat). This is where you're beating all the air and fluffy chewiness into the candy. It will begin to form a ball around the beater and have the consistency of a very thick chocolate chip cookie dough with the stickiness of taffy after 6-8 minutes. At this point add the warm nuts and the powdered sugar.
As soon as the nuts have been mixed into the batter, pour it into the prepared pan. It will be thick and you might need an extra hand to get it out. Try coating a wooden spoon with cooking spray to help with the stickiness. Smooth the batter and cover it with a sheet of wafer paper. Use a rolling pin to smooth out the pan, the candy will begin to harden almost immediately so get it smooth as quickly as you can, it won't ever be perfect, that's the nice rustic quality you're going for. Allow it to cool overnight or, if you're in a hurry, for at least 3 hours.
Once cool, unmold the nougat onto a cutting board and slice through in strips and then slice those into the desired size. Wrap the pieces in cellophane or wax paper and they'll last quite a while.
You can also experiment with adding chocolate chunks, currants, lemon peel, other kinds of nuts, etc. This is just the classic recipe that you can use as a jumping off point.
Candy with a Crunch from the Seattlest
(Images: SoloStocks.fr, Laure Joliet)