Over the last few weeks at the café I’ve been enjoying making various home-made versions of commercially available snacks and sweeties.
This is due in no small part to the fact that I’m on a rather arduous and limiting diet at the moment, so I have to get my kicks where I can, and this is, for the next couple of months, where I shall derive my foodie pleasure – making delicious things for other people to enjoy.
It’s not easy, especially not being able to taste as I go (something all cooks are taught to do religiously) and especially as the finished product is whipped away from the plates in seconds, leaving but a few crumbs.
At least I know I’m on the right wavelength – our customers and friends seem to really appreciate the fun element of these playful treats, as well as their rather more grown-up yet decidedly decadent flavours. And I’m shedding the pounds quite successfully too, so we’re all quids in!
In our time open up there in Almondbury we’ve sold home-made versions of Jaffa Cakes, Custard Creams, Oreo cookies and most recently Wagon Wheels.
A few requests have come in about what we might like to try next, and a lot of the feedback has indicated a love for that squishy, chewy chocolate-y nougat filling you find in Mars Bars and the like.
I figured that if I could master this basic template, then a world of chocolate-y goodies would open before me.
I could combine this with all manner of other ingredients (caramel, crisped rice, nuts, coconut) and make a range of bars just like you’d find in the shops, only blissfully free from preservatives, and (excuse the pun) choc-full of natural goodness.
The recipe and process of making marshmallow was still fresh in my mind, so I thought I’d try making the nougat filling along those lines, adding some chocolate and a hint of malty flavour to get the perfect result, and I don’t think I’m a million miles off.
It’s like a slightly less chewy marshmallow, thanks to the addition of the chocolate which ‘shortens’ the texture a little.
Nougat should really have nuts in it to live up to the name – it derives from the Occitan ‘Pan Nogat’, which means ‘nut bread’, and is of 15th century Italian origin.
This, however, is a more modern, let’s say commercial, version, entirely nut-free, which is handy for those who cannot eat such things.
True nougat, such as that created in the 1700s in Montélimar in southern France, is a white sugar fondant, crammed with toasted nuts and glacé fruits, and is an absolute gourmet delight.
I remember being told once that living in Montélimar back in the halcyon days of production was quite the ordeal – it was almost impossible to escape the pervading smell of sweet, sickly boiling sugar and roasting nuts, especially in summer.
People would leave town for weeks on end, just to get a break from the cloying gusts emanating from every factory window! I presume that things have calmed down somewhat these days, due to modern production regulations and, frankly, due to true nougat not being quite the treat it once was in the eyes of the consumer.
It’s eaten a lot nowadays in the southern Mediterranean countries – Spain still loves its “turron” – but we have rather fallen out of love with the squishy, sugary delicacy in favour of the chocolate-y things, and bars with a bit of texture.
We must move with the times, follow the consumer, and, like we’re doing today, perhaps get our fix by making our own chocolate bars.
We’ll start with the simplest – essentially a version of the classic Milky Way – but once you’ve got the hang of the basics, you’ll be adding all sorts of little touches to please your friends and family.