Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cardamom Rose Nougat

One of my greatest joys as a college student holed away in a study hall, away from the creature comforts that sit hundreds of miles away in Brooklyn, is receiving care packages.
Luckily I have quite a creative family, and on occasion I've been sent Mast Brothers Chocolate, a small cutting board with a skull on it, a book of New York short stories and my absolute favorite, a tin full of cardamom nougat from Sahadi's, a Middle Eastern deli on Atlantic Avenue I know I've raved about on this blog before. My grandmother is the one who sends them to me, and I sit there like Edmund Pevensie (I know his Achille's heel was Turkish delight, but really there is little difference), chewing on my sweeties, ready to sacrifice my sisters and brother to the white witch for another bite of candy and sip of cocoa.
They are filled with pistachios and almonds and of course cardamom. My cardamom obsession has reached new heights at school where a jar of it sits on my windowsill ready to be added to my cup of coffee or bowl of yogurt. It seems a luxurious delicacy after five straight nights of, to quote Sarah Silverman, superfuckingshitty pizza and equally disappointing salad.
I jest, but in all honesty, towards the end of the semester, I'm pretty sure the school stops ordering food and just serves us the leftovers in any creative way they can muster. My jar of cardamom is a hallmark of civility and every time I look at it, I think of this episode of M*A*S*H where BJ Honeycutt is washing a pair of argyle socks.

Hawkeye acknowledges that he's never seen BJ wear the socks before and BJ replies, "You wear them, they get dirty. If you keep washing them, they stay clean forever. They're actually just to remind me of better times. Argyle socks, angora sweaters, Woody Herman, bumbling in rumble seats."
My cardamom serves as my umbilical cord to the city, just as BJ's socks tethered him to Mill Valley, California. So naturally, I fell in love with the nougat that my grandmother sends. Besides the obvious flavor appeal, the texture of the candy is so soft and fluffy, I dreamt the other night that I was sleeping on a mattress of it. I wanted to use my fairy wand to concoct the mysterious sweet and so I set about the task this week armed with my candy thermometer and kitchen aid.
My trials were a bit like Goldilocks and the three bears expect for the 'just right' part. But that said, I am well on my way to making perfect nougat. Although it seems self-evident in hindsight, I was ignorant of the basic rules of candy making. Essentially, the hotter your sugar/corn syrup mixture becomes, the harder your candy is, hence the phases embossed on my thermometer: soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack."
So unfortunately the first time I attempted nougat, it was much, much too hard and the second time I made it, it was so soft that it refused to maintain its own shape without the aid of rolled up wax paper. Luckily, even though the candy is not the perfect consistency, it still tastes delicious and the texture itself, is flawless. Describing this process to people, I feel like an obscure specialist fawning over their subject material with such enthusiasm that their total disconnect from the world is charming rather than disturbing. But if you ever make nougat, you will know what I'm talking about.
The minute you add the sugar/corn syrup mixture to the beaten egg whites and watch the poof of steam as rapidly hardening candy and denaturing egg whites join to become this thick, smooth, gorgeous nourishment, you'll never be able to stop.
Anyhow, even though I heated my sugar to "firm ball", or so goes my thermometer, it was anything but. Still, the nougat was very enjoyable and I now know where to find the in between temperature for next time.
But to begin, I added 2 cups of sugar to 1 1/2 cups of light corn syrup and 1/4 cup of water in a pot. I mixed them until they were incorporated and then turned the burner on medium. You have to watch this process to make sure your sugar doesn't caramelize (that would be way too far)...and stir it off and on. Be careful not to drip too much of this on your counter, because it will harden and stick (use a plate to rest your stirring spoon on).
Once it has reached firm ball or about 275 F, I suggest removing your pot from the flame. While I was cooking my sugar, I whipped 2 egg whites and now you can add the sugar/corn syrup mixture to the egg whites while beating on say, a speed of 4. Now add 2 tsps of ground cardamom, 1 cup of chopped pistachios and 1 tsp of rose water.
Beat until incorporated and them pour your nougat batter into a buttered, floured and tin-foiled tin or roasting dish. Allow it to cool for 1/2 a day and then shape it into balls or cut into blocks. Either way, I suggest rolling the nougat in flour before attempting to shape it because it's extremely sticky.
I then wrapped all of my nougats in squares of wax paper and no one would be the wiser to all of my mistakes...until of course they open it up and have to lick the candy off the paper instead of popping a shapely sphere into their mouths. But still, they're pretty damn delicious.

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