Nougat de Tours

02/09/2013

 
La belle cuisine is taken very seriously in France, and the Nougat de Tours is no exception.  Its history goes back to at least the Renaissance, and it even has its own confraternity.  But that's not the reason we've chosen it as our inaugural recipe.  We just like its simplicity and versatility.
There are fabulous historical associations with Tours that add to our appreciation of this delicious tart.  We all enjoy the traditions associated with the Twelve Days of Christmas, and some of you may even be familiar with Michaelmas - after all, schools in the UK still refer to a Michaelmas term.  There is also Martinmas, but it has fallen out of favour over the last century, mostly because of the unfortunate concurrence of Armistice Day.

"But what's Martinmas got to do with the Nougat de Tours?" you ask.  Well, Martinmas is the Feast of St Martin of Tours, and Tours is one of the famous pit-stops on the historical pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.  And it's thanks to the legend of St Martin's cloak that we have the words chapel and chaplain.  St Martin, born in Hungary, grew up in Italy and then spent the majority of his life in France.  He is considered a 'spiritual bridge' across Europe.  As we intend to sample the cuisine of many countries, particularly European ones, we hope the Nougat de Tours will be a 'culinary bridge' into the world of the Historian and the Chef.

Martinmas (November 11) also falls just before Advent, a penitential period heralding the celebrations and feasting of Christmas.  In past times, Advent was longer and began immediately after Martinmas.  Like the forty days of Lent, it was another forty day period recalling Christ's tribulation in the desert, a period of waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  Eggs would have to be used up before such a period of fasting (which is  one of the reasons we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday).  This recipe calls for five eggs and is native to Tours, so it's a perfect Martinmas treat. 

Like many enduring recipes, it has a fairly humble past.  It can easily be regarded as merely a peasant dish using the most basic of ingredients.  The beauty of such dishes is that they are what you make of them.  With the slightest variations, the Nougat de Tours can be served  at a fine dinner party or a rustic supper, a ladies' morning tea or a picnic in the countryside.
This is what you'll need....

A pie/flan mould.  A metal one with loose bottom is easiest, but a silicone or ceramic one is fine.  We used one that is 24cms in diameter at the base.

For the pastry:
115g icing sugar
175g butter
2 eggs
340g flour
25g corn flour

For the macaronade:
5 egg whites
20g castor sugar
100g almond meal
80g castor sugar
a large handful of raisins (soaked in your choice of beverage)
icing sugar for dusting

Note: These amounts will make more pastry than you need, so you can either make two tarts (double the macaronade ingredients), halve the pastry amounts, or make something extra (which we'll show you at the end as a bonus).  The amounts for the macaronade are easy to manipulate using the principle of tant pour tant - equal amounts of almond meal and sugar.  The corn flour isn't essential, so if you don't have any just top up with regular flour.  In fact, you don't even need to make the pastry yourself - frozen pastry is fine, but there's nothing like being able to say you made it yourself.  You can also use a substitute for the almonds.  (Nougat comes from the word noix, French for nut or walnut.)

Your choice of beverage and fruit will strongly influence the nature of the tart.  To make a delicate tart for fine dining, we recommend soaking golden raisins, cranberries, or chopped dried apricots in brandy or sherry.  For a more robust taste, we soaked muscatels in coffee.  You can also use mixed dried fruit or, as has become common, fruits confits (candied fruit) with a confiture.  (Mishka rather likes the sophistication of a confiture of orange slices.)  Your personal taste and choices, along with the way you cook and present it, will make your Nougat de Tours an expression of who you are.  Once you make these choices, the recipe becomes yours.  It's your Nougat de Tours.

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The Pastry

Making pastry shouldn't be stressful.  Quite the opposite!  It really should be a therapeutic experience.  This is why we're using a basic sweet pastry recipe that you can use for any tart of your choice.  It doesn't even need to be blind baked!  You can jazz it up when you feel more confident, but it really isn't necessary.  Simplicity has its advantages.
Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, combine the butter and icing sugar, before switching to the dough hook and adding the eggs, then the two flours.  (You don't need to cream the butter and sugar - it's more like rubbing in.)  Once they're roughly mixed, dump your clumps of dough on a clean bench and begin kneading.  This is the therapeutic part.

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It shouldn't take long before you have a nice smooth dough which you can mould into two thick logs.  If you over knead it (or are working in a very warm kitchen), it may become difficult to manage, but don't fret, just put it in the refrigerator for a short while.  Put one log aside for later.

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Dust your bench with some flour and roll out your log.  If you do this methodically, it should come out fairly square.  Roll up and down, turn ninety degrees and roll again.  Then roll on the diagonals and so forth.  The idea is to get a smooth and even sheet approximately half a centimetre in height.  Glide your palm across the dough - caress it! - to find any bumps, and smooth them out with the rolling pin.

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Grease your tin - we used an olive oil spray - and place it on top of the dough so that you can use it as a guide to cut your pastry into a circle.  This doesn't have to be neat, just make sure you err on the side of caution so that you have enough pastry for the sides. 

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Now place your pastry inside the tin and press it in.  Once that's done you can cut off the edges by simply rolling your rolling pin in an outward direction along the edge of the tin.

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Finally, prick the base with a fork.  This will stop air bubbles forming and means you won't need to do a blind bake.

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The Macaronade:

We like to begin this part of the recipe by making a cup of tea or coffee.  If it's later in the day and you're making the Nougat de Tours for a dinner party, you may prefer something stronger.  At the same time, soak your raisins (or other fruit) in the beverage of your choice (or hot water if you want a minimalist taste). 

You should also pre-heat your oven to somewhere between 180 and 200 degrees Celcius.  We chose 180 degrees for the Nougat de Tours pictured, but we found 200 degrees better for a more rustic Nougat using coffee-soaked muscatels.

Before making the macaronade, rinse your bowl with a few teaspoons of white vinegar (to remove any fat residue).  You should do this whenever whipping egg whites to ensure they work and to hasten the process.

Whip the egg whites with the 20g of castor sugar until stiff.

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Mix the remaining castor sugar with the almond meal, then fold into the egg whites with a metal spoon.

Drain your raisins (or other fruit) and fold them in too; or, if you prefer, spread your fruit on the pastry to form a bed for the macaronade.  The latter is necessary if using fruits confits with a confiture.

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Then pour your macaronade into its pastry casing, smoothing it out gently with a spatula.  If you're particularly concerned about appearances, remember that consistency and symmetry are key to not distracting from the overall beauty of your tart... and that the heat of the oven will smooth out minor flaws.

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Dust your tart with icing sugar, and wait for it to sink in and dissolve. 

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When it has done so, dust it a second time, trim the edge of the pasrty with a knife (cutting outwards), and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.

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Having said that, it's best if you can form a habit of deciding for yourself when a dish is ready as ovens vary in temperature and heat distribution.  You can tell if the Nougat de Tours is ready by looking at the edge.  The crust should be slightly raised and turning golden brown.

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After you've taken your tart out of the oven, allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes (or completely if you wish to serve it cold) before putting it on a serving plate.  If you are using a loose-bottomed pie tin, this is achieved easily by placing the whole tin on a bowl or other steady object with a smaller circumference and allowing the side frame to drop to the bench.  You can then place the tart on its serving plate without damaging the sides.

Now that you've made your Nougat de Tours, there's the question of  how to serve it.  Softly whipped (or dolloping) cream isn't necessary, but wouldn't be inappropriate, especially if served as a dinner party dessert.  Likewise, a sweet wine from the Touraine region of the Loire Valley would undoubtedly be a delightful accompaniment... but that was beyond the means of the Historian and the Chef

Whatever character you give your Nougat de Tours, we hope we have equipped you to take this basic recipe and make it your own... and we hope we have inspired you to give all your food an individual touch.

But what about that leftover pastry dough?  Read our next post to find out!
 


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