Caramels for Christmas

12 12 2010

I recently took a great food writing class through UCSD Extension with Deborah Schneider, longtime San Diego chef, author of Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta, and owner of Sol Cocina, a modern Mexican restaurant in Newport Beach.

My final project was inspired by caramels that we made as gifts for Christmas this year. We made fleur de sel, chocolate brownie, apple pie, and Marcona almond flavors.

Christmas Caramels

Caramelized sugar is one of the few ingredients that have the power to evoke both warm feelings of home and deep terror. Standing over the pot in the kitchen with slightly spitting boiling sugar on the verge of burning, I kept telling myself that the warm happy part with soft, buttery, chewy caramel candy was coming soon. This was last Christmas when I was making a collection of sweets for holiday gifts and time was running short on getting the caramels done. People loved the flavor, but I never did get the texture right. This year, I was determined to solve the texture and do the whole process without giving myself an ulcer. I think I’ve found a good method.

Chewy caramel candies are actually an American invention that originated in the 1800’s. They were made with sugar, milk, butter, and molasses or syrup that was mixed together and boiled until the right consistency was reached. Before this, caramel was the stage in the process of boiling sugar when all the water had boiled away and the molten sugar began to color. This use lives on in flan or crème caramel, filigree spun sugar, and has been incorporated into yes, many caramel candy recipes.

The caramel recipe here starts with boiling sugar until it changes color; then you add butter, cream, and milk and cook it until it further browns and reaches the right texture. Why bother browning the sugar separately and then the milk, you ask? Well, browning sugar and browning milk proteins are actually two very different chemical processes: caramelization and the Maillard reaction. Each contributes different flavors to the overall taste profile and the combination makes for a complex, layered experience when you chew the caramel.

The Science of Caramel Sidebar
Caramelization is the process by which sugar alone turns brown. Sugar molecules start breaking down and reacting with each other higgledy piggledy. New molecules like diactyl, the molecule that makes butter and microwave popcorn taste like butter, get formed. The darker you go, the more the reaction continues. Take it to coffee color and you’ll have a smoking, bitter concoction called caramel color that is used to add color and flavor to colas. Depending on the sugar, caramelization occurs at different temperatures. Fructose caramelizes at lower temperatures (220 F), with glucose higher (300 F), and sucrose (table sugar) even higher (340 F).

When sugars are heated in the presence of proteins, a different reaction occurs between some types of sugar and the amino acids of the protein. Called the Maillard reaction, after Louis Camille Maillard, the French scientist that described it, this is the same process as browning meat in a pan. In caramel candies, the lactose from milk as well as glucose and fructose, if present, react with the amino acids in the milk and butter proteins. Table sugar, or sucrose, oddly doesn’t play a role here. Sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose, but they are bound together at the same part of the molecule that is required to react with amino acids. So, as long as sucrose stays sucrose, it doesn’t make Maillard products. Maillard reactions can occur at much lower temperatures than caramelization and we’ll see most of ours around 225-250 F.

So, why is caramelizing sugar so stressful? Well, the classic method requires split-second timing. Sugar and a little lemon juice or corn syrup are mixed together until it looks like wet sand. The lemon juice breaks down sucrose to glucose and fructose, effectively making a version of corn syrup in the pan. We’re using corn syrup because it is easier to control. The sugar is heated until it begins to melt. Stirring the sugar can make it crystallize into a giant globular mess, so it is swirled gently to mix the ingredients. The melting is usually uneven, though: some parts of the sugar may melt and darkly caramelize, while others are still crystallized. And you want to stop it before it burns. But the sugar needs to melt before adding the liquids or else crystals can form in the finished candy. And then the phone starts ringing and the kids start yelling. You get the picture.

An alternative method is to dissolve the sugar in water first. The water is then boiled off and molten sugar is left. The crystals are fully dissolved and the caramelization of the sugar is even, resulting in much more control over when we want to add the liquids. We still swirl, not stir, but we’re swirling a liquid, not a slushy mix.

The perfect caramelization point depends on the other flavors in the recipe. Light fruit flavors may benefit from a lighter caramel, while toasted nut caramels may like a darker flavor. The first time you caramelize sugar, take a sample at various points as the sugar goes through lemon, gold, amber, and coffee colors. Take some with a spoon and let cool on a lightly oiled heat-proof surface. When cool, you can taste these stages and decide what will be best for your flavors. The recipe here uses a gold colored caramel, which is reached at about 340 F. As the color gets close, take the pan off the heat. It will continue to brown, just more slowly. If you want it darker, put it back on the heat.

Adding the liquids can be exciting, but you can take it slow. Since the sugar is much hotter than the boiling point of water, all the water in the butter, milk, and cream will start to boil when you add it to the molten sugar, making for a bit of a bubble show. Start adding just a bit, stir, and wait for the bubbles to quiet down before adding more.

Choosing the time to take it off the heat and pour it into a lightly oiled container is another critical stress point. Hardness is determined by the temperature when you take it off the heat and slight variation in temperature can be important. I had been under the impression that if you cooked it too much, there was nothing you could do. You just had to deal with hard caramel. But that isn’t true. You can just add liquid and it will soften. It was like a weight had been lifted. As temperature reaches close to the end, just take the pan off the heat and test the hardness by drizzling a small amount in ice water. As soon as it goes from soft to strongly resisting, pour it out. Too hard? Just add a spoonful of milk or water and try again.

The last point is to let it rest after pouring for at least 12 hours. Touch it any sooner and the oil will start to break and ooze out of the candy. After 12 hours, you can cut easily with a chef’s knife or a pizza cutter. Wrap individually in plastic candy wrappers or waxed paper, put in a pretty box, and you’ve got an enviable holiday gift that was faster and less stressful than parking at the mall.

Recipe: Salted Caramels

The best things in life are often the simplest. Caramelized sugar, salt, and butter are a holy trinity of flavor.

220g (1 ¼ c.) sugar
30g (2 T.) corn syrup
55g (¼ c.) water

90g (6 1/2 T.) unsalted butter (splurge on the European style, here)
220 g (1 c.) half-and-half or:
160g (½ c. + 3 T.) milk
60g (¼ c. + 1 T.) heavy cream
1 t. sea or flaky kosher salt (a good sea salt like fleur de sel is great here)

¼ t. sea or flaky kosher salt

Mix sugar, corn syrup, and water in a heavy 4 qt. saucepan and stir until evenly distributed. Cover with a lid and set to high heat. The steam as it comes to a rolling boil will dissolve any stray sugar crystals on the side of the pan. When boiling hard, take off the lid and set a candy thermometer in the liquid such that the bulb is submerged, but is not touching the bottom of the pan to get an accurate temperature reading.

Heat the half and half or milk/cream mixture in a separate saucepan with 1 t. salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Set aside.

Boil at high heat without stirring until the temperature reaches 300 F. Then, turn the heat down to medium and monitor the solution for color change. It should turn a lemon yellow before turning golden. If the color appears uneven, swirl the pan. As the color changes, moderate the heat by taking the pan off the burner as needed. When the solution is golden, take the pan off the heat and add the butter. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted. Then, slowly add the half-and-half or milk/cream. Let bubble and stir.

Place saucepan on medium to medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Turn the temperature down if the caramel is in danger of boiling over. Boil, stirring often to constantly, until the solution reaches the desired consistency. This should be about 248 F. To test for consistency, drizzle a small amount into ice water, let cool, and taste. The candy should give resistance when bitten, and feel hard when ice cold, warming to soft at body temperature.

Pour into an 8×8 lightly greased heat-proof container, like pyrex. Sprinkle with remaining salt. Let cool at room temperature at least 12 hours. Remove from container and cut into 1×1 inch squares. Wrap in plastic or waxed paper.

Makes 64 pieces. Keeps well at room temperature for 2 months.


Calissons in San Diego

8 10 2010

Ah, finally we get to try traditional French calissons. Maison en Provence, a cute shop in Mission Hills carrying specialties of the Provence region, recently started carrying calissons. They are from Chabert et Guillot in Montelimar, who appear to be particularly known for their nougat.

You can see in the picture how it breaks with a coarse crumble, but is moistly holding together. This version seems to have more water/sugar syrup than ours, is brighter orange in color, and is not ground quite as finely. I think the slightly coarser grind may help in bringing out more melon flavor — the very fine grind seems to swamp out the floral notes. The flavor reminds me of fruitcake with the almonds, candied fruit, and moist cake-like texture.


1 08 2010

Our latest candy obsession has been calissons.

They are similar to marzipan, but have ground candied fruit, particularly melon and orange, in addition to almonds. The paste rests on wafer paper and is covered by royal icing.

Calissons have quite the history and lore regarding their name and origins. They are a specialty of Aix en Provence where they have been made in a semi-industrialized process since the 1800’s. This region of Provence was well known for it’s almonds until the early 1900’s and melons are still celebrated with an annual festival in the nearby Cavaillon. Prior to the Aix factories, they date to the middle ages, possibly coming from Italian monasteries, although they are often attributed as being first made for King Rene’s (the last king of Provence) second wedding in 1454. They retained a religious significance for some time and were said to protect from the plague.

It seems like a simple candy, but finding a recipe for these things has proved challenging. In seemingly reputable descriptions (like here, here, and here), they indicate ground almonds, ground candied fruit, and sugar or syrup from the candied fruit, but fail to provide actual directions. The ground paste is molded on top of wafer paper and then topped with royal icing as you can see in this video. The result is an almond shaped confection.

There is another version that contains egg yolk and heavy cream that seems like it just can’t be right, and others that seem close, but simplified, with ground almonds and jam. MFK Fisher even has a contribution in her book Map of Another Town. She gives the recipe (you can search for it in the Amazon book) from a factory that she never seems to get around to visiting — a pint of blanched almonds, a pound of sugar, and a few tablespoons of fruit syrup — no mention of candied fruit itself and no candied melon.

We decided that we needed to re-engineer the recipe. We based it on Greweling’s marzipan recipe, which is 50% almonds, but decreased the almonds and added candied fruit and syrup. We changed the recipe to about 35% almonds, 30% candied Cavaillon melon, 5% candied Seville orange rind, and 30% melon syrup + a little honey.

Usually, the candied Cavaillon melon is the most difficult ingredient to source. You can find it online, but it is prohibitively expensive for candy making. You can make it yourself if you can find a really good cantaloupe-ish melon. Cavaillon melons are a type a cantaloupe with a strong, honeyed flavor that is just wonderful. We get ours at the Chino Farm, but they seem like they are becoming more common at farmer’s markets and the like. It can be candied like any other fruit by letting it sit in progressively stronger sugar solutions until it is translucent and the solution is about 75% sugar. It can be dried to look more like candied fruit or drained briefly and used for cooking, as in this recipe.

The almonds we get at Terra Bella Ranch, which have the benefit of being very fresh with a clear almond flavor. Unlike European almonds, though, these do not have any additional flavor from the occasional bitter almond. So, we add a little pure almond extract to compensate.

Here’s our current calisson recipe:

350g almonds
300g drained candied Cavillon melon
50g drained candied Seville orange peel
350g syrup from melons
60g lavender honey (not the infused kind — the kind from bees feeding on lavender)
1/4 t. pure almond extract

The syrup is 75% sugar, but gets cooked to ~88% sugar, so it is >30% to compensate. The honey is in place of glucose in the recipe and is characteristic of Provence, which is renowned for their lavender honey. Historically, fruits were often candied in honey, so this is probably consistent with some version in the past.

To make the paste, we use the same method as Greweling’s marzipan. We blanched the almonds in water for 5 min, removed the skins, lightly ground them with the fruit in a food processor. This gives a roughly chopped mixture:

We boiled the syrup to 244F, poured over the fruit/almonds, lightly stirred and let cool on a marble slab.

This recipe is a little too wet, I think and the above image is probably too moist. We actually microwaved this for 1-2 min to reduce some of the water, let cool, and then proceeded with grinding. We ground the mixture to a paste in 2 batches with the almond extract in the food processor for about 8 minutes per batch. Greweling specifies a commercial processor, but our home 11-cup version works just fine. You just wouldn’t want to make too much, as the motor gets pretty hot. This resulted in a fine, smooth paste that was sticky when warm, but smooth when cool.

After this cooled, we rolled it out onto wafer paper (rice paper, but made of potato starch, available here) using .375 inch aluminum bars as guides.

If you try to cut this immediately, it is pretty sticky. But, if you leave it overnight, it hardens on the outside and becomes much easier to cut. We cut them with a slightly oiled knife, using the aluminum bar as a guide.

Although these are usually molded into tapered almond-shaped diamonds, candies like this have historically been cut into diamonds for centuries. Since we don’t have a mold, we have opted for the cut diamonds. After cutting, they are dipped into royal icing and set out overnight to harden.

These are a pretty subtle, but quite addictive candy. They are not terribly sweet and are floral from the melon and orange. I felt the honey and the almond extract really helped to bring all the flavors together. It is much like marzipan, but with a lot more character — in a light, fruity, flowery sort of way.

We’ll have to run these by the French folks in our lives to verify that they are close to the real deal (we haven’t tried the real deal yet!), but we’re quite happy with their flavor. I think a badge will be in our not too distant future!

Pâtes de fruit

5 07 2010

Well, it seems we are on the path to French candy land. Another day, I will tell you about our caramel adventures. For today, we have a pâte de fruit story. This summer, we have been exploring how to make the fruit jellies called pâte de fruit (pronounced paht de fwee, translated as fruit paste). When done right, they have bright, concentrated fruit flavors. When done wrong, well they are just nasty. My only experience with fruit jellies as a kid was spitting them out. In France, however, they are held in high regard and can often be quite expensive. So, we figured with really good fruit and a solid recipe, we could probably make something quite good.

Fruit pastes are some of the oldest sorts of candies. They are basically stiff jam that has been cut into pieces. The ingredients are the same: fruit, sugar, pectin, and some acid, but it is cooked longer. Pâte de fruit recipes often have corn syrup/glucose to prevent crystallization, too. Quince fruit was historically used as it contains plentiful pectin and tastes wonderful after a long cooking.

Now, when we started this project, we thought that pectin was pretty much the same wherever you went. Turns out we were wrong — there are a bunch of different kinds. Generally speaking, there are two types: high methoxyl and low methoxyl. Pectin is a polymer and the number of methoxyl (-OCH3) groups that are attached influence how the pectin sets. High methoxyl requires low pH and high dissolved solids (mostly sugar, about 55%) to set well. Low methoxyl requires less sugar, but needs calcium to set — it is what is used in low sugar jellies. Within low and high, there are additional ranges, with some setting rapidly and other setting slowly. Slower setting pectins are better for clear jellies and faster setting better for things with inclusions. Pectin is unfortunately not labeled very well and it can sometimes be hard to figure out what you are buying. Pectins used for making jams and jellies in the US are not pure pectin and are calibrated to certain recipes. Pâte de fruit recipes aren’t calibrated for these types of pectin. They assume pure pectin and call for things like apple pectin or yellow pectin. Apple pectin and yellow pectin are not usually found in stores. You can find them at L’Epicerie (yellow and apple) and Le Sanctuaire (yellow). If you find other sources, please post a link.

This is our starting formula for pâte de fruit, although the specifics will vary depending on your fruit.

for ~50 small pieces (can be doubled or quadrupled easily)
250g fruit puree (225g fruit puree + 25g sugar)
250g sugar
50g corn syrup
50g sugar + 7.5g pectin, whisked together
5mL lemon juice

This is pretty much the recipe that comes on the apple pectin package from L’Epicerie and is also based on the recipes for Boiron purees, which are high quality purees that are usually used for this sort of thing. We use lemon juice not because we can’t get tartaric/citric/malic acid (check your local brew supply store, here’s ours), but because when we used it, the candy was really strongly acid flavored. We feel that good fruit will have high acid content and if not, lemon juice seems to do the trick for flavor and final gelling of the pectin. We use the acids when we are not using fruit (e.g. vanilla-mint). The amount of pectin that you will use will vary depending on how much is in the fruit. We have found 7.5g/250g puree to be a good starting point.

The Fruit
Now, we finally get to the most important part — the fruit. Make sure to get the best fruit that you can. It doesn’t need to be completely ripe, but it does need to be fruit that would taste amazing when ripe. We find our fruit at Chino Farm, where they consistently produce amazing fruits and veggies. We did a few test runs with fruit we got at a less expensive market and most people had trouble identifying the flavor. By spending $3-5/50 pieces of candy more on fruit, we went from a nondescript sweet treat to a deep fruit experience.

For this summer’s project, we attempted to make 7 kinds and succeeded at 5: strawberry, vanilla-mint, beet, nectarine, and rose geranium. We failed moderately or pretty badly at two: watermelon and corn.

First off, a success:

Beet pâte de fruit:

Now, beets are not normally used for pâte de fruit, but they are naturally very sweet and the Chinos grow wonderful ones. We began with about 5 medium-large beets, peeled & chopped:

And juiced:

Since you will be stirring nonstop, it is important to have everything in place before you start. Set up the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and sugar/pectin mixture in bowls.

Also, get ready whatever you are going to use to form the candies. You can use a rectangular container, lined with plastic wrap. We have these aluminum bars that we got from Online Metals that work as caramel bars. We set them up on a silpat on top of a marble board to insulate the heat from the table. There is no need to oil them as the candy will pull away cleanly.

To cook the candy, we have seen a number of different methods. You can bring the fruit puree to a boil, then add sugar/glucose, bring to a boil again, and then add pectin. When it reaches 224F, you add the acid and pour into the mold. You can also make a syrup with the sugar/glucose and a little water, boil to ~230, add half the fruit, boil, add the rest of the fruit and the pectin, boil to 224F, and add acid and pour. You always add the acid at the end. Adding fruit later I think helps the flavor, but I am not sure. For this version, we added the fruit later. Both ways work. Here’s a pic of the beet with everything but the lemon juice added:

And poured into the mold after reaching 224F and adding lemon juice:

After about an hour, the candy is cooled, ready for cutting, and tossing in sugar. We cut with a chef’s knife into 3/4 in x 3/4 in pieces. We use normal C&H sugar for this, but you can get fancier with larger crystaled sanding sugar. Here’s nectarine, beet, vanilla-mint, and strawberry.

Nectarine pâte de fruit
5g pectin

Strawberry pâte de fruit
5g pectin

Vanilla-mint pâte de fruit
enough water to make a syrup (1/2 c)
1 Tahitian vanilla pod, scrapped into syrup while cooking
bring to a boil & then add pectin

1/2 bunch fresh mint, chopped, added with acid
4g citric acid in a little water

Rose geranium pâte de fruit
1c water + 25g sugar
1 small bunch (7-8 flower clusters) rose geranium, with flower petals separated and reserved.
Bring to boil water, 25g sugar and rose geranium leaves. Add 250g sugar, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil and add 7.5g pectin.
4g acid (half citric, half malic), in a little water
When solution reaches 224F, remove from heat and add acid. Stir in acid and boil for a minute. Add reserved flower petals and pour into mold.

For watermelon, we reduced the juice about 2.5x before making it with 7.5g pectin. The result was sticky and gooey and never really set well. We’re wondering if there wasn’t too much glucose/fructose in the reduced fruit juice. We’ll try leaving out the corn syrup next time and see if that helps.

For corn, we weren’t sure what would happen. We used less pectin (5g) because we thought the natural cornstarch would add some thickening power. We also doubled the lemon juice (10 ml) because the corn doesn’t have that much acid. It didn’t set up and was super sticky. After sitting a day, it developed a crystallized crust.


The flavor, however, was unreal and I suspect a quest is in our future. We’ll try going heavy on the pectin and acid next time.

Well, did we badge? We’ve sourced pectin and fruit/veggies well. We’ve researched the science and history to some extent, and we’ve made the recipe a number of times until we usually get it right. I’d say that qualifies as a badge. However, I think the key to pâte de fruit is being able to optimize to the particular ingredients that you have. I see an advanced badge in the future about optimizing the recipe to new ingredients. Not that we need to get the corn right, mind you, but figuring out a harder one like watermelon would be nice!

eGullet Pâte de fruit
Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling
Hungry in Hogtown’s description of El Bulli’s Vanilla pâte de fruit
Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson

Nougat Badge

15 02 2010

I think nougat has gotten a bad rap, at least in the States. Most nougat that gets eaten these days is like the puffy, empty sweet nougat in Snickers bars. I didn’t think it was all that great either until we found this book: Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling. The author is a professor at the Culinary Institute of America and this book could function as a class text book, coffee table book, or a basis for starting a business in chocolate or candy making. I am sure this book has been at the core of all the “how to open my own chocolate shop” Google searches, too.

We got this book last year and had a blast learning how to make molded chocolates, caramels, and nougats, which we handed out for Christmas last year. This week brought a couple of excuses to brush off the book and see if we couldn’t officially get our badges.

On our visit to Schaner Farms in the Little Italy Farmer’s Market this week (who we religiously visit at opening time every week to get our eggs), we came across a pretty basket of Kaffir limes.

These limes are usually not eaten much, but the leaves are used extensively in Southeast Asian cooking. The flavor is pretty unique and is dark green, fresh, and slightly bitter lime. The basis of nougat can often be a candied fruit or rind and once I saw these, I knew we had to try out candied Kaffir lime peel.

The Greweling book lays out how to make candied or “confit” citrus peel. You first blanch peel from quartered citrus to remove the bitterness.

Kaffir limes are quite bitter — their peel will make your lips tingly if you try to eat it straight. So, instead of blanching the three times recommended, we added a fourth. After the fourth, we could not taste much residual bitterness in the peel. Here they are after the last blanching.

After blanching, you simmer the peels in a sugar/glucose solution for anywhere from 60 min to 2 1/2 hours (he says 90 min, but we’ve always needed longer) at a very low heat. In order to keep them submerged, we used a drop lid. We first learned about drop lids when we tried Japanese cooking. The Japanese do a lot of simmering and use a drop lid to keep the food submerged under water for even cooking. We got ours at Daiso, the Japanese equivalent of a dollar store (but a lot better). You could also use a plate.

We checked on them every 10 min or so to make sure they were not simmering too hard (the skins get tough if they boil). They go from opaque white in color to purely translucent over time. We cooked them for 10 min after they had first all gone translucent. This time, it took about 2 hrs 15 min. Here they are when they are done.

Which brings us back to nougat. Nougat is pretty close in many ways to meringue: egg whites that have been stiffened with boiled honey and/or sugar. The less water, the harder the meringue and the harder the nougat. Meringues can be baked to completely dry them out. In nougat, water is removed by boiling the sugar and honey to higher temperatures before adding it to the egg whites. You can, as Greweling does, also use powered egg whites instead of regular whites and this removes more water.

Today, we’re making a French-style “Montelimar” nougat. The region of Montelimar in south-eastern France is renowned for their nougat. According to our friends at Maison en Provence, a very cute housewares store specializing in products from Provence, Montelimar nougat should be white, chewy, and only made of almonds, pistachios, sugar, and lavender honey.

Greweling deviates from this in his Montelimar nougat and adds hazelnuts, dried pear, dried apricot, and dried cherries, and regular (!!) honey. We’ve tried a bunch of versions — almonds, pistachios, and dried cherry; with added candied yuzu; a chocolate version with candied Seville orange peel; with French lavender honey; with Spanish lavender honey; and with Costco clover honey. Today, we are making a Thai-inspired nougat: candied Kaffir lime peel, candied ginger, toasted macadamias, and French lavender honey.

Lavender Honey Interlude
Most lavender honey that is available in the States is lavender infused honey. So, it pretty much tastes like soap. True lavender honey, on the other hand, is from bees that have lived on nothing but lavender flowers. It fills your nose with a heady floral sweetness that makes other honeys seem coy — nothing like soap. We’ve tried Spanish lavender honey ($10 for 12 oz.) and French lavender honey (Ours Brun brand, $20 for 13 oz.). Turns our the Spanish bees have nothing on the French — as for the price, we just have to suck it down. Even if it triples the cost of making nougat, the quality of the honey is directly related to the heavenliness of the nougat, no matter what else you put into it.

This recipe is all about timing. It takes about 45 min to get everything set up and then it all executes in about 15. You have the egg whites sitting in the mixer; all the inclusions (nuts & fruit) toasted if needed and waiting in a warm oven; sugar, corn syrup, water, and vanilla sitting in one pot; and honey in another. You turn on the mixer with the whites when the honey reaches 226 F and then the fun starts.

You begin by making an Italian meringue. This is whipped egg whites, into which you pour boiled honey while whipping. If you follow Greweling to the letter, you start with some powdered egg whites and ultimately end up with a hard-ish nougat. We use 70g egg whites (about 2) to start instead. Using the same temperatures for the rest of the recipe results in a great soft, chewy texture.

As soon as the honey reaches 248, you have turned on the sugar solution to boil, and take the honey off the stove and pour it into the whipping whites (pour down the side so the hot honey doesn’t get in the whisk!).

You then wait for the sugar solution (sugar, corn syrup, water, and in our case a Tahitian vanilla bean) to boil to a temperature of 300-311. Any hotter and the glucose in the corn syrup will start to caramelize and you’ll get nougat with a brown hue. For this, and the honey step, a good candy thermometer is important. We have ruined a couple digital probe-style thermometers because they have gotten too hot in the sugar or on the bottom of the pot. Greweling uses 311 here, but you could go a little lower for chewier texture.

Glucose/Corn Syrup/Maltose huh?

Greweling uses “glucose” in all his recipes, which is corn syrup, but he uses the general term because it could be made industrially from any starch. Corn, when it is in the cob, is mostly made up of starch, which is a big molecule made up of a bunch of glucose (a type of sugar) molecules stuck together. It can be broken down with enzymes — in your mouth, starches get broken down into sugars by an enzyme in your saliva called amylase (you could make your own corn syrup by chewing on corn starch, but that might be taking “homemade” a little far). Industrially, people use enzymes, too. The result is a solution made up of glucose, maltose (2 glucose molecules stuck together), and some larger molecules made of glucose, the whole thing of which is called corn syrup. Karo syrup is corn syrup with vanilla flavoring added. We get our syrup at the Korean market Zion, where they call it malt (maltose!) syrup. It has the advantages that it has no vanilla and is a third the price of Karo. None of these syrups taste very sweet. High fructose corn syrup (which we are not using here), has another step to convert the glucose to fructose. The stuff in soda is about 55% fructose to 45% glucose, making it about as sweet as table sugar or honey.

Vanilla Sourcing
Go into a random grocery store and buy a vanilla bean and you will seriously wonder what all the fuss is about. They will charge you $4-10 and it will be dry, old, and pretty tasteless. Grocery stores just don’t get the traffic to warrant having good vanilla and you are better off using extract. The internet, however, can come to your rescue. We found this site from a guy that seriously knows his vanilla. He seemed to think that Beanilla was a pretty good place to get beans and we followed his advice, getting soft, pliant, vibrantly fragrant beans for $1 – 1.50 each. We tried 5 different kinds and settled on our 2 favorites: Mexican, a smooth, creamy vanilla with deep notes (think “The Most Interesting Man in the World”); and Tahitian, a bright, fruity, floral vanilla (think a stylish, flamboyant gay man about to throw a party on a gorgeous tropical island).

After you pour the sugar solution into the honey meringue and whip for a few minutes, you are ready to mix in the inclusions. If you’re not a purist, these can be anything. This time around we have diced Kaffir lime peel, candied ginger, and toasted macadamia nuts. Since we were going with a Thai theme, we also used coconut oil (also a hard fat) instead of cocoa butter. Here is the nougat going into the bowl with the inclusions and coconut oil.

When to add cocoa butter?
In the recipe, you also add melted cocoa butter to the nougat to help with mouth feel and to ease in cutting it later. The recipe says to add it in the mixer. This introduces all sorts of drama. First, the nougat, which was all puffy, collapses. Then, little pieces of nougat (which is very hot!) come flying off the mixer unless you have it covered. It is supposed to come together again, but we’ve always ended up using a hair dryer to heat up the nougat to get it to come together again. Luckily, someone on eGullet (Drewman, see here) had the bright idea of adding the cocoa butter to the inclusions instead. This works beautifully.

After mixing it up, you pour it out onto sheets of rice paper. It helps the nougat to keep from sticking to things, like the plastic that you wrap it up in. The paper dissolves quickly in your mouth. We got our rice paper from a cake decorating store called Do it with Icing! — they sell by the sheet. It can also be found online, but you’ll likely have to buy a bunch. It is often used to print pictures in edible ink, which get placed on top of cakes. The paper melts into the frosting, leaving the picture.

After you spread it around with your hands, you place another piece of paper on top and smooth it out (you can use a rolling pin) so that the nougat is even.

After it cools overnight, you can cut it into pieces with a chef’s knife. If it is too sticky, chilling in the fridge can help.

Nougats absorb water from the air, so you need to protect them with a covering. You can enrobe (cover) it in chocolate or wrap in plastic or wax paper. We use these cellophane “caramel wrap” sheets that we ordered from Sugarcraft. Other places sell as well, but you need to make sure that you get the kind of cellophane that will stay put after you twist it. The type that is used for bags won’t work. Half the work for these guys is cutting and wrapping, but it’s fun to hang around the table and chat.

You’ll end up from this recipe with about 1 1/2 lbs of nougat. It keeps well for 4-6 weeks, but can then start to develop a grainy texture. It is still good and will keep for months, but is not quite as good as during the first month.

The Thai nougat was surprisingly good — we think it is the best one we’ve made so far. It is a lot like a Thai curry in more than just the taste profile — the flavors merged really well together. We thought the Kaffir would dominate, but because it wasn’t bitter, it was a bright initial flavor that faded into the hot ginger with the macadamia anchor. The Tahitian vanilla and the lavender honey come in with strong fruity, floral notes and the coconut smoothed everything out and helped to merge the flavors together. All in all, really awesome.

Badge Check!
We’ve sourced most of the ingredients, finding good quality at prices we think are fair. We’ve also learned how to make one (candied peel) ourselves.

We’ve learned about different types of nougat, making one style pretty extensively.

We’ve made the recipe enough times to 1) feel comfortable making it, 2) optimized a number of steps, and 3) are damn happy with the result.

I’d say that passes! Nougat for all!!