A Provençal gros souper (Christmas Eve dinner) would not be correct without some nougat noir to challenge the skill of your dentist and possibly lay waste to your dental work. In other words, nougat noir can be a bête [bite!] noire*, if you’re not careful.
For nougat noir is a hard candy, not the pillowy stuff you might be thinking of.
Several types of nougat exist, thanks to the Arabs and the enterprising people of sixteenth- century Montélimar in France. You will find soft nougat, hard nougat, white nougat (the most popular — Italian torrone is a typeof soft nougat).
Black nougat supposedly symbolizes evil. I can see why people thought that if their teeth broke or fell out while eating it!
To make Black Nougat, have all the ingredients lined up and ready to go (mise-en-place, as the French say, and rightly so). There’s no time for taking cute pictures, either, so don’t even think about it. And, most important, please be careful when you cook the caramel and when you add the honey; the hot sugar really begins to spit! Nougat noir is more like a nut brittle than the soft nougat-like Divinity you might remember from your childhood. In times past, before sugar became easily accessible, cooks made nougat noir only with honey. Note that the color of the honey affects the color of the final nougat as well as the caramelization process.
Nougat Noir (Black Nougat)
2 T. butter for greasing the mold or baking sheet (use a shallow mold like long tart pan if you don’t use a baking sheet)
4 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups lavender honey (add 1 T. culinary lavender to the honey, heat about 1 minute in a microwave, let sit, and then strain out the lavender flowers)
7 cups almonds, toasted — I like blanched roasted and salted almonds for this
Make the caramel by placing about 1/4 of the sugar in a deep, wide saucepan (preferably with a handle). Cook over medium heat until sugar melts and do not stir until sugar is melted. Then pour in more sugar, let it all melt, then stir, and repeat with remaining sugar. You may have some clumps, and if there’s a lot crystals building up on the sides, dribble a slight amount of water down the sides of the pan and brush the crystals away if you can. Once all the sugar is caramelized to a dark amber color (not burned!), pour in the warmed honey, slowly, stirring constantly. You might want to wear hot-pad gloves at this stage to protect your hands. The mixture will bubble up and look ferocious. Stick in your candy thermometer and cook to 300 F. Immediately stir in the almonds and remove mixture from the heat. Pour right away onto the prepared pan or into the mold. When still warm, cut into pieces. Wrap pieces in plastic wrap or store in airtight container.
Arrange on a platter to serve it with White Nougat for Le Gros Souper, or Christmas Eve.
Be sure to read my other posts on Provence’s Thirteen Desserts:
No Partridges, Just Thirteen Desserts HERE
Lillet by Another Means: Vin d’Orange, or, French Christmas Spirit HERE
Citron* (Cédrat), Jewel-Like Morsel of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts HERE
One of the Thirteen, the Tangerine HERE
Panis focacius, la Gibacié, and la Pompe à l’huîle, Kin Under the Crust, One of the Thirteen HERE
Begging the Question: Les Quatre Mendiants and Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts HERE
Les Quatre Mendiants au Chocolat, A Candy Offshoot of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts HERE
*Bête noire means “pet hate or dislike.”
© 2010 C. Bertelsen