Festive fare: nougat

Almond nougat.
Almond nougat. 

Nougat with a cup of coffee can keep you going through the long festive afternoons and is a good type of gift - easy to wrap and transport.

As a nougat purist, I give the glace cherries a miss and stick to almonds or pistachios. Dried sour cherries or cranberries taste good, too, and look right with the hint of red. This one is a little tricky, but worth it when you see it wrapped up ready to give.

You should invest in a sugar thermometer (from kitchen shops) for this recipe, and be a bit organised. It is crazy when dealing with hot sugar and pouring part of it into beaten egg whites to try to work out the temperature of the remaining boiling syrup. Honey gives a great flavour. Since the taste of honey is affected by cooking, it is added at the last possible moment to cut its cooking time.

Almond nougat

2 egg whites

450g granulated sugar

1 cup glucose

ΒΌ tsp salt

3 tbsp honey

125g toasted almonds or pistachios or both

125g sour cherries or cranberries (optional)

rice paper (an edible paper, from specialist food stores)

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks in a heatproof bowl. Butter a 20-centimetre square tin or have the rice paper placed out - the rice paper is not essential but makes it easier to handle.

In a heavy saucepan, mix the sugar, glucose, salt and 4 tablespoons of water. On medium heat, stir the mixture carefully until the sugar has dissolved. Avoid splashing sugar up the sides of the saucepan - have a pastry brush ready in hot water to wash any splashed sugar from the sides.

Continue to cook the syrup without stirring, until the mixture is at the "hard ball stage", 121C on a sugar thermometer. It is called hard ball, as when a small amount is dropped into cold water, it forms a hard ball.

Gradually - but not so slowly that the sugar cools before it meets the mixture - add about a quarter of a cup (no more) of the sugar syrup to the egg whites while beating. You don't want the beaters going too fast - otherwise they will fling the sugar to the edge of the bowl, where it can cool in hard lumps. Beat until the mixture holds its shape.

Cook the remaining syrup to the hard crack stage, 149C, which is when it will snap if you place a small amount in very cold water. Now add the honey. Add this syrup to the egg-white-and-syrup mixture, and beat until it holds its shape. Put the bowl over some barely simmering water and continue to stir. From this moment on, it becomes very thick very quickly, and hard to handle, so you need to work quickly.

Warm the nuts (and fruit, if using) for about five minutes in a hot oven (this stops the mixture cooling too fast when you add them). As soon as the mixture you are beating holds its shape, stir in the warmed nuts and fruit, and put the (sticky) mix straight on to the rice paper and flatten it as much as you can, then cover with another sheet of rice paper. You can flatten this more with a rolling pin. If you're not using rice paper, press into the tin and flatten - use an oiled palette knife or rolling pin.

Let this stand until firm, then turn out and cut into the desired shapes. I put it in the fridge to harden up more to make the cutting easier. Wrap in greaseproof paper, or cellophane.

>> Kate McKay is co-owner of Lynwood Preserves.