With the release of Zest Recipe Manager I was looking for a way to thank some people who had helped us along the way. Inspired by The Sweet Swap, it occurred to me I could mail them each a small treat! Even better, The Sweet Swap site had some pointers to recipes from previous years, which led me to the Pistachio Nougat recipe on Lemonpi. (Original credit for the recipe goes to the Pier cookbook.) I was drawn to this recipe in particular because I love the chewy texture of softer Italian-style nougat.
The core part of the recipe, handling the sugar syrup in particular, is not something to be messed with. Unless you get the temperatures right you’ll end up with nougat that either doesn’t set or is too hard. There is plenty of room to experiment, though, with the nut filling. I had recently spotted dried blueberries in my local Source Bulk Foods and was keen to try them out, and this was the perfect chance. I ended up using about 200g of Pistachios, 100g of blueberries and 70g of slivered almonds.
Challenges and Tips
The first challenge is getting your hands on rice paper. I turned to the unbeatable Ralph’s Deli which never fails to deliver on unusual ingredients. I’ve only come up empty there once, and on that occasion they ordered in proper clotted cream for me!
When cooking the two key things are timing and temperature. Make sure you have your baking tray and egg whites prepared before you start cooking the syrup. Then measure the temperature closely and start beating the egg whites at the 118°C point as suggested in the recipe. After you slowly incorporate the syrup with the whites you need to work quickly, as the cooling nougat will start to set. Be careful of the residual heat: use a tea towel to hold your mixing bowl while you quickly fold in the nut mixture and pour the nougat into the baking tray. Push it down into the tray well — it’s best if you can flatten it by placing some weight on top of the upper layer of rice paper.
No matter how efficiently you work you’ll doubtless end up with sticky bits of mixture to clean up. Hot water is your friend: warming the hardened syrup will soften it again for easy removal. Just don’t pour loads of it down your sink, where it could set and clog your pipes! On the upside: there’s plenty of opportunity for finger licking here. 🙂
The final challenge is cutting the nougat, which is tricky to do neatly because of the soft and sticky texture. I put my nougat in the fridge to firm it up so that it didn’t squash too much when cutting through the nuts. Make sure you use a sharp knife and have a bowl of hot water nearby. A hot, wet knife cuts more easily, and cleaning after every cut or two keeps it that way.
This nougat is divine. I love the chewy texture and particularly the depth you get from using honey in the syrup (make sure you use good quality honey). The sweetness also brings out extra berry flavour in the dried blueberries. It was a great way to thank our Zest helpers, from whom I got some wonderful feedback. I’ll leave the last word to our youngest taster, who with 6 years of experience exclaimed “this is the best thing i’ve ever had!” :).