Making honey-nut nougat is what inspired both my tentative beginnings in the world of making candy and this blog. Mostly because a good nougat is delicious, of course. But also because it seems to be the candy that requires the most care and attention to make. And needs the most precision. And the most specific ingredients and equipment. And seems to be the most difficult to get perfect (I’m not there yet, so the final recipe and technique is still to come). But – did I mention it is delicious? And most satisfying to make, given the effort. And actually, a lot of fun to make too.
Before I share my recipe for perfect nougat (she said optimistically), I thought I’d share the many lessons and titbits I have picked up so far in my attempts to reach that perfection. Once these are out of the way, the actual making is pretty straightforward.
- Rice paper is not as easy to find as people will tell you. Well, certainly not in Cape Town, and not in the stores I’ve been directed to by well-meaning friends and strangers. The confectioner’s rice paper you need is not the Chinese springroll type. I’ve seen it called Italian wafer paper, and if you nibble a small piece it does remind one of a very very thin wafer biscuit in taste (like those childhood coloured wafers with the icing). It requires no preparation and usually comes in rectangular sheets. I have only found it at specialist stores (like The Baking Tin) and even they were out of stock – supplier shortages – for the first 3 months of my adventure. Most retail store assistants will not give you rice paper, instead they will give you a very blank look when you ask for it; they have no idea what it is.
- I had similar problems locating liquid glucose (sometimes called corn syrup). I was assured by many that any chemist or pharmacy would have it readily available. 4 well-known pharmacies later, and I’d learnt that they beg to differ. Their corn syrup is in sachets for sportspeople, and all indicated that they don’t sell liquid glucose. Ditto the healthshop. Turned out, this is also a baking speciality, and The Baking Tin came through again. Incidentally, liquid glucose is useful because it adds sweetness without adding flavour; it has no flavour of its own. It’s concentrated too, so less sugar is needed.
- Invest in a candy thermometer. I don’t have a very fancy one (there are some real “investments” available), but I couldn’t do without it. All candies work better with it, but you cannot make nougat without it. Mine cost around R46 and works like a charm.
- Some recipes assume you know how to roast nuts. In case, like me, you haven’t done this before: Preheat the oven to 160C (320F). Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking tray and roast for about 10 minutes. More than this and they may be a bit over-roasted, tending to burnt. Use oven gloves to remove the tray and nuts from the oven
- Roasted nuts chop easier, so first roast then chop. Let them cool a bit first, so you can touch them. Oh, and don’t touch the baking tray when transferring them to your chopping board – remember the metal will still be pretty hot.
- Keep the nuts warm till you need them. You can cover them with foil, but I found putting them back in the switched-off oven worked really well. Cold nuts will apparently make the nougat mix set too quickly, making spreading difficult after you’ve stirred the nuts in (can’t say if this does happen, I just keep the nuts warm – rather safe than sorry)
- You need a beater/ mixer on a stand for nougat. The hot pot and syrup must be slowly poured while the beater turns, and it’s almost impossible to hold a beater, move it around, and slowly pour hot syrup into the bowl all at the same time.
- Don’t lift the beaters up out of the mixture while they are still on. Unless you enjoy warm soft nougat mix in your hair, on your walls, across the floor…
- Let your nougat set in a cool spot at room temperature for at least 4-5 hours. It’s torture waiting for it, I know, but anything sooner and you’ll be sorry when it’s a squishy mess.
- Here is the most important lesson: When cooking the syrup, you must heat it to at least 140C (285F), and not more than 150C (302F). This is why your thermometer is so important. I read a number of recipes – and tried some – that had a lower temperature, and my nougat would not get firm. Not even overnight. Having struggled to find the reason for the softness, I came across an explanation on taste.com.au which made sense to me. Removing the syrup from the stove at 140C will result in a softer, chewier nougat. As the syrup gets hotter and moves between soft ball and hard crack stages (in simple terms, as the syrup goes from more liquidy to more solid), your nougat will also go from softer to firmer. My last attempt followed a recipe that said you should heat to 135C (275F), and my nougat had to be kept in the fridge, and was still pretty soft, but getting there, so I look forward to trying the longer cooking time.