Edible gifts are my favorite to give - and to get. Among those I like to make around the holidays, candies are at the very top of the list. Most have a longer shelf life than cookies, meaning a few hours spent now and those goodies will still be giftable at the end of the month, when your neighbor invites you for a glass of holiday cheer.
Of all the candies I make, nougat is unexpected and delicious. Like a chewy, dense marshmallow studded with fruit and nuts, and scented with honey, nougat is found in markets throughout Europe, Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East. It’s sweet and crunchy and tart - and absolutely irresistible. Also, beautiful to look at. There are many ways to package nougat, requiring only a little creativity, and maybe some ribbon.
Nougat also serves another purpose. At the end of all the holiday baking, after a year of granola-making and recipe testing, my pantry is harboring a birds’ nest of small packages - bits of dried cherries, a few apricots, a dried pear (yes, one). There are macadamias, hazelnuts and almonds, pistachios, pecans and walnuts. And nougat does not require a specific mix of fruits and nuts, but the opportunity to mix at will. Go ahead: KonMari the pantry and make a pan of nougat, essentially crossing two things off that excessively long to-do list.
Beyond the fruit and nuts, the recipe calls for only egg whites, sugar and honey. I omitted salt in the accompanying recipe, having included salted pistachios. If your pantry has whole raw nuts, toast them first. If they are unsalted, either salt them once toasted or add 1/2 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt to the recipe. The honey is the most forward of the flavors, so use that special jar from the farmers market or the one you brought back from vacation all those years ago.
There is one critical step: Do not overbeat the egg whites. If, once they’ve become lofty and have peaks, the whites begin to separate and liquid appears at the bottom of the bowl, you’ve gone too far. Sorry to say, but this is utterly irredeemable. Start again. It’s only three eggs and not worth the gritty candy that results.
Timing it all - heating sugar syrup and honey to critical temperatures, and then getting the egg whites just so - should not cause anxiety. Be deliberate. Get everything set up, including the egg whites in the mixing bowl. Start by heating the sugar syrup, which will take the longest to reach temperature (about 20 minutes.) Once it’s nearly there, start the heat under the honey. It should come to temperature in about 10 minutes. When either one reaches the goal temperature, remove the pan from the heat. Only when both sweeteners are at temperature is it time to start whipping the egg whites. When they are fluffy and have peaks that tip over when the beater is lifted, check the temperature of the syrups. They may have slightly reduced, and if so, reheat until they’ve regained the goal.
Pour the syrup and honey into the running mixer, one after the other, steadily and slowly. Initially, because of the tawny shade of the honey, the nougat will be beige, but as the mixer adds air it will change to snowy white - and will end up looking so appealing with red cranberries and green pistachios.
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The last bit of advice I have for you: Making candy makes a terrible sticky mess, but it’s easy to clean. Simply fill the pots with water, add any tools that will fit, and bring the water to a boil. Pour the boiling water over anything sticky still sitting in the sink. If candy is still stuck on, pour more boiling water over whatever hasn’t come clean. It just takes time and a lot of hot water to get past it.
When the nougat has cooled and firmed up, portion it for gifting. There are many ways to present nougat. Wrap 2-by-5-inch slabs in parchment, tying it up with twine or a ribbon, or wrap 1-inch squares in individual candy wrappers. Any way you slice it, this is delicious gifting. Wishing you all a very happy season of joy.
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