Learn the science behind:
If made well, it can have a pristine white color and be light and fluffy. But, nougat is probably one of the more daunting candies to make. Luckily, a little bit of practice can make perfect, especially if you:
- tightly control temperature (hello cheap reliable IKEA thermometer 👋);
- pour your sugar syrup in at just the right whisking speed;
- use the right types of nuts (sorry walnuts);
- and do not rush doing your dishes!
- Nougat is a cooked egg white foam
- Sugar syrup of the exact right temperature
- The composition of the sugar syrup is crucial too
- How to make nougat (candy)
- Cleaning up nougat
Nougat is a cooked egg white foam
Nougat is a sweet delicacy, made from whipped egg whites, mixed with a hot sugar syrup, often with dried nuts or fruits mixed through. As long as you store it well, it can be stored for months without risking spoilage, thanks to the high sugar content (and thus low water activity).
Nougat relies on the unique feature of egg whites that allow them to be whisked into very light and airy foams. They have their proteins to thank for this property. The proteins in the egg whites can surround air bubbles very well, ensuring they don’t escape again after you’ve worked hard to whisk them in. It’s the air bubbles that also give nougat its white color. The small bubbles reflect light in countless directions, making the nougat white.
One of the few ingredients that somewhat approaches the strong foaming functionality of egg whites is aquafaba. We haven’t (yet) tried making nougat with it, but have used it to make French meringues.
A relative of marshmallows & meringues
Nougat is a close relative of both marshmallows and meringues. All of them are made by whipping egg whites into a light and airy foam, before somehow stabilizing that foam:
- Marshmallows, which can also be made without any egg whites, use gelatin for stabilization.
- French meringues are stabilized by baking them in the oven.
- Swiss meringues use a double boiler to gently heat and set the egg whites.
- Italian meringues are made with a hot sugar syrup to do the same.
Of its relatives, nougat has most in common with Italian meringues. Both use hot sugar syrups to stabilize the egg white foam.
Sugar syrup of the exact right temperature
One of the most crucial aspects of making good quality nougat is making that sugar syrup. The hot sugar syrup determines the final quality and structure of the nougat.
You make the sugar syrup by bringing a mixture of white refined sugar (sucrose), corn syrup (also called glucose syrup) and some water to the boil. By doing so, you dissolve all the sugar crystals in the water. This ensures the final nougat is soft and smooth instead of gritty.
Next, you need to cook that sugar syrup to a specific temperature well above the boiling point of water (100°C/212°F). By doing so, you’re evaporating a lot of water. As a result, the hotter the sugar syrup becomes, the more concentrated it is. By concentrating the sugar syrup you’re making it thicker and more viscous. This is crucial for your final nougat. You want a syrup that’s thick enough to make a firm nougat, without being so firm, the nougat becomes crunchy.
We’ve covered the science of cooking sugar syrups extensively here, which we’d recommend reading if you’d like to understand nougat making in more detail!
If not, it can become sticky!
Getting the temperature correct of the nougat is important. If you don’t cook it to high enough temperatures, it becomes quite sticky. The sugar syrup still contains too much moisture, not enough has been evaporated.
If you cook it for too long though, the nougat can become very crumbly and brittle. It can even become a little crunchy. The nougat no longer contains enough water to remain moist. A sugar syrup that’s been cooked too hot also becomes very challenging to pour into the whipped egg whites. It will be so hot and viscous that it easily sticks to the equipment.
Note that so far we haven’t mentioned a specific temperature. This is because the exact temperature depends on the recipe you’re using and the texture you’re after. Generally, it’s around 150-160°C (302-320°F). Also, we’d recommend not using a candy thermometer. They tend to be clunky and prone to breaking (at least in our case). Just use this cheap, simple, and very effective IKEA thermometer.
If you’ve accidentally overheated your sugar syrup, not all is lost. When the sugar syrup is hotter than your target temperature you’ve essentially evaporated too much moisture. Simply add back a little water, be careful, it can splatter, bring back to the boil and reheat until you’ve reached your target temperature.
The composition of the sugar syrup is crucial too
Most sugar syrups for nougat making aren’t made with just pure white refined sugar. Instead, a lot of them also contain corn syrup. Both serve slightly different roles in the nougat.
Let’s start with the regular sugar. Sugar is made of a molecule called sucrose. It dissolves well in water, but at high concentrations, it is prone to crystallization. Cooled-down sucrose solutions aren’t very sticky and you can make a nice ‘short’ texture nougat.
Corn syrup on the other hand makes candy that’s a lot more sticky and ‘stretchy’. That’s because corn syrup is actually a mix of molecules. It contains small sugar molecules such as glucose, but also contains a lot of larger molecules called polysaccharides. Glucose is more sticky and prone to moisture than sucrose. However, corn syrup as a whole is far less prone to crystallization due to the presence of those larger polysaccharides. It also helps prevent the crystallization of sucrose. Together, they make a good team!
Honey can replace corn syrup
Instead of corn syrup, you can also use honey. Honey is also a mix of small sugar, such as fructose and glucose. Honey does not contain those larger polysaccharides. Using honey has the added benefit of adding extra flavor to the nougat.
How to make nougat (candy)
As you’ll see in the recipe below, making nougat only takes a few steps:
- Whisk up egg whites
- Cook a sugar syrup
- Pour the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites, while whisking
- Fold in some (roasted) nuts
We’ve already discussed the first two steps. So let’s have a quick look at what happens after.
Sugar syrup cooks the egg whites
Egg whites contain proteins that hold onto air bubbles. They aren’t strong enough to do so permanently though. Over time, the air bubbles will be able to collapse. This is where the hot sugar syrup comes in. The hot syrup cooks the egg whites. Allowing them to unfurl and more permanently surround the air bubbles.
How to prevent chunks & threads of sugar
Once the hot sugar syrup cools down, it will turn quite hard. As such, you need to pour it while it’s hot. The cooler it becomes, the harder it is to pour. Once the sugar syrup touches a bowl, or the egg whites, it will cool down more quickly. If you pour the sugar syrup too fast, it might get shocked and instead of mixing in, it will form large firm lumps of sugar.
As such, gradually pour the sugar syrup into the bowl, while whisking at a medium/high speed. It’s even better if the sugar syrup gently flows down alongside the bowl. That way, it won’t be whisked away by the beaters and truly gets a good chance of being folded into the egg whites. Due to the temperature to which you cooked the sugar syrup, it can form threads, much like you make when spinning sugar. You decrease the chances of this happening when it touches the egg whites before it touches any beaters.
A tip on adding nuts
Most classic nougats contain roasted nuts to add some crunch and flavor. You’d add nuts once all the sugar syrup has been mixed in and you’ve got a nice firm, but still warm foam. You want to nougat to remain warm enough so you can still remove it from the bowl. It’s why you don’t want the nougat to cool down too quickly. As such, keep the roasted nuts warm (not hot) before adding them.
Cleaning up nougat
Your nougat is done, it’s safe and sound in the tray. It will need to continue to cool and dry out a little more, so it’s best to wait at least a few hours before eating it. Store it away from moisture once it has cooled down, especially if you live in a humid climate.
That leaves just one more job: clean up. And we’ve not forgotten about that last tip we mentioned at the start: be a little patient. Don’t try to scrub your pots and tools to remove all the nougat. Instead, soak everything in water for at least 30 minutes. The sugar and eggs both dissolve well in water, but, since they’re so dry, it can take a while for them to do so. Once you’ve soaked for a while, it should be an easy clean-up!
So, make that nougat, soak all the dishes, and take a rest (or make something else ;-)!