Wednesday, 22 June 2011

N is for... Nougat and nutty Nocino truffles


The N night nougat was a strange beast. It looked like nougat, smelled like nougat and even tasted like nougat, but the texture wasn't like nougat at all. It had some give to it when cutting but once you tried to pick it up its solid state was unnervingly temporary. The nougat collapsed in your hand and slowly melted into a pool of mess with a firm surface but a viscous liquid bottom. It was like the scary evilbot in Terminator Two who could turn his hands into swords to stab through people's heads (and milk cartons) or melt into a weird silver pool. I'd never made nougat before and so looked around at various recipes and opted for the one that my cupboards already boasted the ingredients for. I should have known that it might be a bit dodgy considering all the other recipes included powdered glucose. But I didn't have any powdered glucose. I should have trusted Rachel Allen and gone out and bought some powdered glucose, but I didn't. Sorry Rachel. 

I've just tried to open that recipe so I could link to it in a bid to show you all what to avoid, but the website seems no longer to exist. Maybe it wasn't just the nougat that let them down. Here's the recipe so you can make sure you avoid it. With all those pistachios, it was an expensive mistake to make.

Bad nougat

680 g sugar
340 - 450 g pistachio nuts
340 ml golden syrup
235 ml water
60 ml clear honey
2 egg whites
Vanilla extract

Place the sugar, syrup, honey and water into a saucepan and heat until 127°C (260°F). Beat the egg whites stiffly and pour the hot mixture slowly into them, beating constantly until the mixture goes stiff and waxy. Add the vanilla and the nuts and mix well. Pour into a box or pan lined with waxed paper. When cool, cut into squares and attempt to serve.

Nutty Nocino truffles

We were all on far safer ground with these. Richard and I had brought home a bottle of Nocino (an Italian walnut liqueur) that we picked up at the airport on our trip to Rome last year. Richard had been given a bottle years before and decided it was the most delicious thing ever and had always hankered after a repetition of that happy drinking experience. He made it sound delicious and I was excited. I thought it would be like Frangelico- sticky and sweet, but walnut instead of hazelnut flavoured. We got it home and a few days later decided to crack it open and have a snifter. For starters it was the usual brown of so many of the Italian digestifs we had tried in Rome on our search for something Nocino-esq. Secondly, it had the same cough syrup smell and unpleasantly bitter edge as those other dark brown disappointments we drank in Rome. Needless to say, I wasn't much of a Nocino convert. Richard insists that I have an over developed resistance to all things bitter and in part I agree with him, but it's a very specific kind of bitter I steer clear of. I love the bitterness of a meltingly perfect square of cocoa solid rich dark chocolate. I adore lemons in almost any form, think olives are excellent and I don't object to the bitter notes in a chicory salad. I am a big fan of a rich, strong and aromatic cup of coffee (albeit with a sugar or two), but there's a particular kind of bitter that I can't abide - bitter with a ferric aftertaste. This includes most beers because I think they taste like blood (Yes, I know, we're probably not treading common ground here, but to redeem myself for slating Britain's heritage drink of choice, I have discovered that I quite like Innis and Gunn). I also hate all weird herbal infused digestifs - Jägermeister, as far as I can see, is a big gulp of horror. And fizzy water tastes like a cut finger dunked in a glass of tap (I have no excuse for this. Perhaps it's the result of some long buried childhood trauma involving a soda stream). Either way, I think I've proved my point. It's not that I hate all bitter tastes, it's just that I'm acutely fussy about which bitter notes my taste buds will accept. And even Richard admits that Nocino isn't quite as nice as he remembered. 

BUT, it turns out Nocino fares very well indeed when you bung it into a chocolate truffle. I sweetened the ganache a little more than usual (despite the fact that I'm not usually a fan of overly sweet treats) in an attempt to counteract the taste of iron bar you get after quaffing a glass of this walnut tipple and, by gum, it worked! These truffles were quite something - all smooth and velvet-y with a hint of complexity and rolling them in the roasted chopped nuts added a welcome crunch. Try them. I think you'll like them.

100 g dark chocolate, chopped and placed in a heatproof bowl
100 ml double cream
2 tbsp light brown muscovado sugar
50 g unsalted butter
A forkful of Nocino
Enough chopped roasted nuts to roll your chocs in.

Heat the cream and sugar together in a saucepan over a gentle heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once the cream begins to bubble, take it off the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Pour the buttery sweet cream over the chocolate and leave to stand for about a minute before stirring with a rubber spatula until all the chocolate has melted and you are left with a smooth, glossy ganache. Add your Nocino and stir. Taste for strength and add more if you need to. Leave to cool before transferring to the fridge to set. Take the ganache out of the fridge 10 minutes before rolling them into balls. Spoon out a teaspoon's worth and roll the ganache between you palms until you have made a neat sphere and roll it in the nuts. Repeat until you've run out of ganache and pop the nutty Nocino truffles on a pretty plate to serve.

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