Tom and I happen to share a love of nougat. I'm a fan of essentially every variety -- almond or pistachio, hard or soft, plain or chocolate covered, French or Italian -- I just cannot resist its chewy nutty goodness. Until now, however, I've been unsuccessful at making it on my own. A couple of years ago, I tried making nougat a few times, and I was never able to achieve anything with the proper texture. But the nut and cherry nougat recipe in The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies & Other Sweets with Ideas for Inventing Your Own made me want to give it another try.
The recipe is described as being fairly labor intensive, which is only partly true. The recipe requires you to toast almonds and pistachios and keep them warm in the oven (along with some honey in a separate container), whip egg whites, and heat two separate pots of sugar and corn syrup on the stove to two different temperatures. None of this steps is particularly difficult or laborious, and the recipe actually comes together in a short amount of time. However, I think it's more accurate to describe the recipe as fairly concentration intensive, since it requires you to do all of the above tasks at the same time. The recipe also leaves little room for error, since it provides you with multiple opportunities to burn sugar.
Essentially, you whip eggs whites with sugar, and then keep the mixer running while you add in: 1) sugar and corn syrup that has been heated to 250 degrees; 2) more sugar and corn syrup that has been heated to 293 degrees; 3) warm honey and salt; and 4) dried cherries and warm toasted nuts. You pour the whipped mixture onto a pan liberally sprinkled with a layer of powdered sugar mixed with cornstarch, sprinkle some more powdered sugar-cornstarch mixture on top, roll it out, wait for it to cool, and then cut it with an oiled knife. I cut mine into 1.5" squares.
These nougats were quite firm (in the past, I've made nougats that were so soft they wouldn't hold their shape) and easy to cut and handle. I rolled the nougat a bit thinner than I probably should have (I think they would have looked prettier if they were a taller), but I was able to get 50 squares out of the batch. They were delicious, with a perfect chewy texture. My only complaint was that the almond flavor was overshadowed by the pistachios -- next time I might tinker with the pistachio to almond ratio. More than anything, I'm just gratified I was finally able to turn out a successful batch of nougat at home!
Recipe: "Nut and Cherry Nougat" from The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies & Other Sweets with Ideas for Inventing Your Own by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox.