Nougat news and farmer’s markets

May 13, 2008

One of the signs that spring has sprung in Canada is the reopening of farmer’s markets. This last week I heard so much talk about ramps, morels and fiddleheads that I really can’t keep track of how many people I know have been to a local farmer’s market and are now cooking up these first of the season morsels.

Besides fresh locally foraged and farmed produce, Canadian farmer’s markets are great places to find homemade baking, preserves and artisan foodstuffs such as cheese. When I was in Edmonton in March, I spent a day with Brad Smoliak. Besides being a research chef, food stylist and cookbook author, Brad and his sister-in-law make wonderful nougat that they sell at two Edmonton area farmer’s markets.

Although many people make fudge, truffles and brittles at home, the art of nougat making seems to be fading. In fact, when I offered Brad’s nougat around the test kitchen, it became obvious that even among professionals, the definition of nougat is not top of mind. That’s too bad because nougat is delicious and deserves more recognition.

Nougat is a confectionary concoction that can be soft and chewy or hard and crunchy. It almost always contains nuts of various kinds (although usually not peanuts). Famous European nougats include Italian torrone, Spanish turron and Persian gaz.

Making nougat requires a bit of practice since you need to heat a sugar solution to just the right temperature before folding in egg whites and honey. The temperature of the sugar mixture determines the final texture of the nougat. Even sweet kitchen guru David Lebovitz cautions that nougat is “one of the most difficult of candies to master.”

I’ve never made nougat and after this kind of caution, I’m a little afraid to try. Does anyone have a recipe, advice or some nougat making tips they’d like to share?