Chocolate Almond Nougat Bites

(Sung to the tune of the Beatles “Let It Be”)
“When I find myself in times of trouble
Candy bars are there for me
Easing all the stress
De–li–cious–ly”

A series of flight delays and other airport hassles on a Sunday night led me to treat myself to a See’s Candies Nut & Chew Bar from an airport See’s kiosk.  And you know what?  It made my travel experience a little sweeter and inspired me to make nougat from scratch.  Most people barely know what nougat is, and you don’t really need to know much more than that it’s the chewy stuff that holds together a Snickers bar.  My experimentation with nougat was in the form of Chocolate Almond Nougat Bites- a mini twist pretzel covered in a mound of chewy, fluffy nougat with two roasted almonds on top, smothered by dark chocolate.  It turns out the nougat wasn’t as difficult to make as I thought it would be, but it still requires proficient use of a candy thermometer and coordination skills that allow you to slowly and carefully pour boiling hot sugar into a rapidly turning mixing bowl.  So, it’s definitely not a process for the candying making novice.  That said, the results are pretty ridiculously delicious.  Note, the nougat doesn’t take too long to make (under an hour), but it takes quite a bit of time to individually assemble each of the candies.  Plus chilling time is needed, so this recipe can be quite a time intensive project.

The nougat in all its beauty and glory.  You can see the candies to the left before they’ve been covered with chocolate.
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Hours later, the Chocolate Almond Nougat Bites are ready to eat.
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Chocolate Almond Nougat Bites

Makes approximately 100 pieces
(From Hand-Crafted Candy Bars)

Ingredients

Mini twist pretzels (buy a big bag to make sure you have enough.  The number of pretzels you use will depend on how much nougat you pile on top of each pretzel)

Nougat

3 egg whites
1 cup (200g) sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) corn syrup
1/4 cup (60ml) water
2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whole roasted almonds, approximately 1 pound (16 ounces)

1 pound of melted dark chocolate (I used a Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate bar)

Directions

  1. Line at least two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Put the pretzels on the baking sheets in a single layer.

Nougat

  1. Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, and continue to boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 235°F on a candy thermometer (about 6 minutes).
  4. When the sugar mixture has reached 235°F, begin whipping the egg whites on low speed, just until they are a bit bubbly.
  5. Continue cooking the sugar syrup until it reaches 245°F.  Take it off the heat.
  6. With the mixer on low, pour a splash of the sugar syrup into the egg whites, aiming for the space between the rim of the bowl and the whisk attachment.  Make sure not to add too much sugar syrup at a time because it could cook the egg whites.
  7. Continue whisking, and slowly add the rest of the hot sugar syrup.
  8. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and mix until the nougat reaches a full, frothy foam (about 4 minutes).
  9. Add the vanilla and salt to the nougat.
  10. Keep whipping at high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3-6 minutes.
  11. Allow the nougat to cool in the bowl, and once it has reached room temperature, you’re ready to assemble the candy.

Assembling the Candy

  1.  Using two spoons or a small cookie scoop, put a mound of nougat on each pretzel.
  2. Lightly press 2-3 whole almonds on top of the nougat.  Repeat with all the pretzels.  Set aside.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl set over a boiling pot of water.
  4. Spoon the melted chocolate over the almond/nougat, and spread lightly over the sides if desired.
  5. Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.

Note: These can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days, in the refrigerator for 2 weeks, or in the freezer for 2 months.  I prefer to keep them in the fridge.

Almond Flour Brownies (Gluten-Free)

I’ve been having some unusually good brownie karma lately.  After making an especially delicious batch of candied bacon brownies, I was emboldened to bake a batch of gluten-free brownies using almond flour.  In a word, these brownies are perfect.  They have a crispy, shiny top crust and an uber fudgey center.  The almond flour adds a “je ne sais quoi” overall richness to the chocolately flavor while keeping everything moist and tender.  If you don’t have almond flour in your pantry, it’s worth buying just to make this recipe.

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Almond Flour Brownies

Makes 16 brownies
(from King Arthur Flour)

Ingredients

5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups (2 1/4 ounces) cocoa powder, Dutch-process or natural
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (5 1/8 ounces) almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease or line with parchment an 8″ square pan that’s at least 2″ deep.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and eggs.
  4. In a medium size bowl, stir together the almond flour, cocoa, and baking powder.
  5. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well mixed.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges.
  7. Bake the brownies for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few damp crumbs.  Do not overbake, or the brownies will be dry.
  8. Remove the brownies from the oven, and cool for about 15 minutes before cutting.

Note: Store the brownies in an airtight container at room temperature for several days or freeze for longer storage.

Caramel Candy Bars

I’ve reached the point in my baking repertoire where a shortbread cookie layer topped with caramel and finished off with a rich layer of chocolate has become a bit mundane.  It’s delicious, but where’s the fun in so much predictability?  These Caramel Candy Bars provide a refreshing deviation from the norm with the addition of all things almond, including almond extract,  almond flour, and chopped almonds.  In a further unexpected twist, half of the shortbread dough is sprinkled on top of the caramel to create a streusel layer that is then topped off by a generous layer of chocolate and toasted almonds.  While these Caramel Candy Bars require a bit of time and work, the results are anything but ordinary.
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Caramel Candy Bars

Makes one 9×13 inch pan
(from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook)

Ingredients

Crust

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (5 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg
2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup (3 1/4 ounces) toasted almond flour or finely ground toasted almonds

Filling

2 cups (16 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (11 ounces) light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick; 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (8 ounces) cream (light, heavy, or whipping) or evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Frosting

1 cup (6 ounces) chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
3 tablespoons (2 ounces) light corn syrup
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) chopped toasted almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with lightly greased aluminum foil.

Crust

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and confectioners’ sugar until well combined.
  2. Beat in the egg, and scrape the bowl as needed.
  3. Add the vanilla and almond extract, and mix until well blended.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the four, salt, baking powder, and almond flour until well combined.
  5. Stir the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture, and mix until well combined.
  6. Divide the dough in half.  Press half the mixture into the prepared pan.  Save the remaining half to use as the streusel topping (Press the dough into a log, and freeze it while making the caramel.)
  7. Bake the crust for 15 minutes, until it’s lightly browned around the edges.  Remove it from the oven, and cool slightly while making the filling.

Filling

  1. In a large (3 1/2 to 4-quart) heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the brown sugar and corn syrup.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes without stirring, to wash any sugar crystals off the  insides of the pan.
  2. Uncover the pan, stir in the butter, and continue to boil, stirring often, until the caramel reaches the soft ball stage, 234°F on a candy thermometer.
  3. While the syrup is boiling, gently heat the cream in the microwave or over low heat on the stovetop until it’s hot but not boiling.
  4. Remove the syrup from the heat, and slowly stir in the hot cream.  Be careful as the mixture will bubble up.
  5. Return to the heat and cook until the mixture reaches firm-ball stage, 245°F to 248°F.
  6.  Stir in the vanilla.
  7. Pour the caramel over the baked crust.  Let the filling cool for a few minutes.
  8. Remove the dough log from the freezer and use a coarse grater to grate the crumbs over the top of the hot caramel, or use your hands to crumble the reserved crust mixture over the hot caramel.
  9. Bake the bars for 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Remove the bars from the oven and cool them on a rack.

Frosting

  1. In a saucepan set over medium heat, or in the microwave, stir together the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter, until melted.
  2. Spread the frosting over the cooled bars.
  3. Sprinkle the almonds over the warm chocolate, and let the bars rest until the chocolate firms up, several hours or overnight.  You can refrigerate the bars to speed up the firming process.
  4. If you’ve refrigerated the bars, let the bars come to room temperature before cutting into 1 x 2-inch bars (if you cut the bars right out of the oven, they may be difficult to cut and break off unevenly).