This recipe was born from a failure, as my son likes to remind me! You could call it an experiment – because I knew it could fail, but was excited by the challenge anyway. I was trying to make nougat without a thermometer. It’s tricky to know when the sugar is cooked to the right point for the nougat to set and not ooze …
As I’m sure you know, you can cook sugar to different stages, from soft ball through to hard crack and beyond. Each stage happens at a certain temperature and has a particular consistency when you let a droplet fall into a dish of water. So I was trying to work out if the sugar was cooked on texture alone.
There is something that appeals to me about doing things the old-fashioned way without technology. (Yep, definitely true of my parenting too, increasingly more challenging as our kids grow up.) But in cooking, it is not just stubbornness or unwillingness to buy equipment that you hardly ever use – there is an adventure in going it alone, armed with a little research and your instincts. (I’ve also made a few thermometer-less batches of cheese with my son, who is a massive cheese lover. This is definitely possible for the easier cheeses. But now we have our hearts set on a silken, stretchy clump of mozzarella …)
So after all, I think I’ll get a thermometer! Maybe I’ll perfect nougat, or maybe not. Here I’ve fully embraced a beautifully soft and simple ‘nougat’ for the purposes of turning into an amazing ice cream.
Nougat ice cream cake
Christmas pudding forever has my heart, but if you are looking for a different (or a second) Christmas dessert, ie. you live in Australia and it’s going to be a warm summer’s day, then I think this ice cream is a fine contender. It is actually brilliant at all kinds of celebratory summer get togethers, and you can serve it with berries, slices of white nectarine, or perhaps mango.
Because of the airy and stable nougat base, the ice cream has lots of volume and is soft and creamy, tasting of honey and nuts with a twist of Amaretto (you can leave out the almond liqueur if preferred, or use something else like Frangelico). You can also choose whether you want to set the ice cream in a round tin and cut it in wedges, or in a loaf tin to give rectangular slices. (You can even slice rectangles in half again, which really makes the ice cream look like pieces of nougat.)
200 g almonds (or you can use part pistachios, hazelnuts or other nuts you fancy)
100 g honey
100 g sugar
1 tablespoon water
500 ml cream
1 tablespoon Amaretto or other nut liqueur (i.e. Frangelico) or spiced rum (optional)
Toast the nuts in a moderate oven until aromatic (if using pistachios, toast only lightly; if using hazelnuts, you will need to rub off their skins after toasting). When cool, chop the nuts roughly.
Separate the eggs, putting whites in a large mixing bowl and yolks in a medium mixing bowl. Beat the whites to firm peaks, then turn off the beaters but leave them in the bowl ready to switch back on again. (Nougat is safest made with a hands-free stand mixer. But if you have hand beaters, just get another person to help while pouring in the hot syrup.)
Combine the honey, sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over low–medium heat. While it is heating, put a small bowl of water next to the stove to use for testing the syrup. (You shouldn’t stir it, but can swirl the saucepan gently a few times during cooking if you like.) Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is simmering rapidly, take a look at the time – in roughly 4 minutes you should start testing by taking a small spoonful of syrup and letting a droplet fall into the bowl of water. In the beginning it will form a soft, flat blob. You want to keep cooking and testing droplets of syrup every minute, until it forms harder tadpole-like shapes – leave the shapes in the water for 30 seconds (while the syrup keeps cooking), then pick up and squish the shape. The syrup is ready when the shape is quite hard and difficult to squish (after approximately 8–10 minutes of cooking). Turn off the heat.
Turn the beaters back on at medium speed. Carefully and slowly pour the hot syrup into the egg whites and watch as the mixture becomes a silky, golden meringue. Keep beating for several minutes to help cool the mixture down. Scrape off the beaters (but keep for the egg yolks and cream – a little meringue residue is okay), then use a spatula to fold in the chopped nuts.
Pour the cream into the bowl of egg yolks and whip the mixture to soft peaks. Scrape the whipped cream into the bowl of soft nougat and add the Amaretto if using. Fold together until thoroughly combined. Line a large round cake tin or loaf tin with baking paper and scrape in the mixture, smoothing the top. Freeze for 24 hours or longer, as convenient.
Before serving, pop a serving plate into the freezer for an hour or so (so the ice cream doesn’t begin melting from the bottom). Invert the ice cream onto the plate and peel off the paper. Serve in slices with berries or other fruit on the side.