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.
For the nougat:
450g unrefined golden caster sugar
100g liquid glucose
50g bitter chocolate
50g Horlicks powder
2 large free-range egg whites
½ tsp Maldon salt
For the coating:
800-900g milk or plain chocolate
A suitable tray for setting (ideally about 9” square)
A fondue skewer or long fork
First, we need to make the nougat filling.
Prepare the tray – line it with the baking parchment, making sure you have nice neat corners, to avoid waste.
Gently melt the nougat chocolate in a bowl over simmering water (or in the microwave).
Put the sugar, glucose and water in a medium saucepan over a gentle heat, and stir gently until the sugar dissolves completely.
Remove the spoon, pop in the sugar thermometer and raise the heat. You’re sending the syrup to 130ºC on the thermometer.
As the sugar gets to 100 ºC, start whisking the egg whites. You need to take them to a firm peak, but careful not to overwhisk – they shouldn’t become granular.
When the syrup reaches 130ºC, remove the pan from the heat, and pour very slowly into the egg white, whisking all the time.
If you’re using a hand whisk, it might be an idea to get someone to help by either whisking or pouring.
With all the syrup drizzled in, the egg whites should become glossy and smooth. Keep whisking for about five minutes to allow the mixture to cool a little.
Pour in the melted chocolate, a pinch of salt and the Horlicks powder, and mix completely.
The mixture should be a pale milk chocolate colour, and very shiny.
Tip quickly into the lined tray, and roll around to reach the corners.
Allow the mixture to cool completely before cutting into even-sized bar shapes.
Pop the bars onto a tray lined with more parchment, cover with clingfilm, and freeze overnight.
The next day, melt the dipping chocolate, allow it to cool to blood temperature and, using the skewer, dip the frozen bars into the chocolate, shaking off the excess.
Carefully lay the bars back onto the lined tray, using a teaspoon to dab melted chocolate onto any potential bare spots.
Allow the chocolate to set completely before serving.
Remember, you can use this recipe in combination with all manner of other ingredients such as caramel or cereal to make your favourite chocolate bar recipes.