Almond-Pistachio Vanilla Nougat Candy- no recipe

Following a successful and encouraging first experience at making nougat (see Chocolate Almond Nougat Bites), I got cocky and decided to make nougat candy with a limited amount of add ins so that the nougat would really stand out as the main component.  The nougat recipe I chose sounded especially promising because it had a good amount of honey in it, and pistachios and almonds would provide just the right richness and balance to the sweetness.  However, once I started cooking, my attitude changed very quickly.  Never have I ever hated a recipe as much as I hated this one.  I was irritated and stressed by EVERY SINGLE step involved in making the nougat.  At every step of the way, I was sure the final result would be failure.  Somehow I pushed through, with each step getting more difficult and frustrating, and at the end of it all, somehow, miraculously, I had amazingly delicious little squares of Almond-Pistachio Vanilla Nougat Candy.  I don’t know how that happened, but one thing I know for certain is that I will never ever ever never ever never never make this recipe again.  So, you will not find the recipe below, but enjoy the photo.

The bane of my existence, but oh so delicious.
IMG_0103[1]

Fruit and Nut Bars

I’ve said it once before, but I’ll say it again, homemade granola bars outshine every store bought version.  This quick and easy recipe for Fruit and Nut Bars is so simple that at one point in the recipe, you use your hands to combine the ingredients (no fancy mixer needed).  The most “advanced” step involves using a fork to stir the egg and vanilla together.  You can totally do this.

My version of these bars included pecans, cashews, almonds, dates, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and dried blueberries.  Some brown sugar, a little  bit of cinnamon and vanilla, an egg, and just enough flour to hold it all together round out the ingredients.  The result is bars that are dense and chewy, sweet and nutty, and slightly tart.

IMG_6362[1]

A close up of all that deliciousness.

IMG_6363[1]

Fruit and Nut Bars

Makes 16 2-inch bars or 25 smaller bars (8×8 inch pan)
(from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies)
My notes are in [  ] below.

Ingredients

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.625 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt [less if the nuts you use are salted]
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon [optional; this was not in the original recipe but I like a hint of cinnamon in my baked goods.]
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2.625 ounces) packed light or dark brown sugar
2 cups (7 ounces) of nuts [can be whole or pieces; I prefer a mix of almonds, cashews, pistachios, and pecans.  The original recipe specified walnuts only.]
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) dates, pitted and cut into quarters [I like a mix of dried fruit so I used 5 ounces of dates, 2 ounces of dried cranberries, and 2 ounces of dried blueberries.  Dried cherries are also a nice flavor addition.]
1 cup (5 ounces) lightly packed dried apricot halves, each cut in half [I used a little less than this because I didn’t want my bars too tart.]
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Position a rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Line an 8-inch square pan (the bottom and all 4 sides) with heavy duty foil and spray with baking spray or line the pan with parchment paper.  The bars are pretty sticky, so I prefer using parchment paper.
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon (if using) in a very large bowl, and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
  4. Add  the brown sugar, nuts, dates, and dried fruit (including the dried apricots).  Use your fingers to mix the ingredients until the nuts and fruits are coated with the flour mixture, and separate any sticky fruit pieces.
  5. Vigorously whisk the egg with the vanilla in a small bowl until light colored and thickened.
  6. Scrape the egg mixture into the large bowl, and mix with your hands until all of the fruit and nut pieces are thinly coated with batter.
  7. Spread the mixture into the pan, pressing down to compress the batter and even it out.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the thin batter coating is dark golden brown and has pulled away from the sides of the pan.
  9. Cool in the pan on a rack.
  10. Drizzle the top with honey, if you like your bars a little sweeter.
  11. Life the ends of the foil/parchment, and transfer the bars to a cutting board.  Use a sharp knife to cut 16 or 25 squares.

Note:  The bars can be kept in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks at room temperature, or longer in the refrigerator.

Hazelnut and Almond Brittle

Because it’s not slathered in chocolate or piled high with toppings, I always forget how utterly delicious and super addictive nut brittle is.  This nut brittle recipe is proof that keeping it simple is super.  I used whole hazelnuts and almonds, but you can use nearly any nut you like.  One of my favorite things about this recipe is that although the brittle is hard, once you bite into it, it has an airiness and light crunch to it, and the richness of the nuts provides a good contrast to the sweet caramelized sugar.  I’ve been told that this brittle was so delicious that people fought over the crumbs.

IMG_6192[1]

Hazelnut and Almond Brittle

Makes one 11 x 17 inch sheet
(from Chocolates and Confections at Home with The Culinary Institute of America by Peter P. Greweling)
My notes are in [ ] below.

Ingredients

1 pound (2 cups) sugar
4 ounces (1 1/2 cup) water
12 ounces (1 cup) light corn syrup
1 pound (3 cups) [I’ve used 13-14 ounces of nuts too, and it didn’t seem to skimpy] unsalted hazelnuts, almonds, or other nut that you like [skin on is OK]
1 teaspoon salt
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) butter, unsalted, soft
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Directions

  1. Line a large sheet pan [I prefer an 11×17 inch pan so that the brittle isn’t too thick and difficult to bite into.  The orginal recipe recommends a 10×15-inch sheet pan.] with parchment paper [making sure the parchment paper goes up the sides of the pan], or you can lightly oil it [I prefer using parchment because it makes for super easy clean up and it doesn’t add any extra flavors and grease like oil can].
  2. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant rubber spatula.  Cover and boil for 4 minutes. [This helps melt the sugar crystals that may be clinging to the side of the pan]
  3. Remove the cover, insert a thermometer, and cook without stirring to 240°F. [It should be a very light brown color.  You’ll have to experiment a little with this, as the brittle is more flavorful as it darkens, but you also run the risk of the brittle burning if you brown it too much.]
  4. Add the nuts, and cook while stirring to 320°F [make sure to stir often to ensure the nuts do not burn], or until the batch is light brown [My batch started to brown around 310°F, so make sure to keep an eye on it.  Also, the brittle will darken up when you add the remaining ingredients, so it’s OK if it starts out very lightly browned.].
  5. Remove the pan from heat, and quickly mix in the salt, butter, vanilla, and baking soda thoroughly.  Be careful as the ingredients will bubble up as you add them.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan and spread to the edges using an offset spatula. [The texture may seem a little puffy and difficult to spread, but it will settle down it cools.  Just try to make the top as even as possible.  Also, try to keep the brittle from going too far up the  sides of the parchment paper.]
  7. Allow the brittle to cool to room temperature.  Break into the desired pieces. [Depending on what size pan you use and how thick the brittle is, you can use different methods to break the brittle into pieces.  When the brittle is thick, I use a meat tenderizer to break up the brittle.  But that also creates a lot of “wasted” tiny pieces of brittle, which can be used for ice cream topping or sprinkling over other desserts.  I prefer to break the brittle up with my hands as I can control the size better, which is why I use an 11 x 17 inch pan as the brittle is just the right thickness for me.]

[Notes: The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks.

Since this recipe is so versatile, feel free to experiment with different nut combinations. I like pairing almonds with pecans since they have different textures.  I’ve also experimented with adding 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (I add it during Step 5 of the cooking process)  which adds a slight but noticeable cinnamon flavor, and walnuts are a good nut to companion for cinnamon.]