Nougat Cake from Tours

Nougat cake from Tours

Nougat cake from Tours

Tonight we take on Gabriel Gaté’s Nougat Cake from the central Loire Valley region of France.  Contrary to its actual name, the cake is not a nougat but actually filled with an almond merengue mixture called macronade.

The recipe actually calls for confit (glacé) fruit.  These are simply fruit pieces, or sometimes whole fruits that have been preserved in sugar syrup.  I found these quite hard to find locally.  While the fluoro red and green glacé cherries were readily available, as was glacé pineapple and ginger, anything else was unobtainable at any of the regular stores and even the dedicated ‘fruit and nut’ shops I visited.  I did stumble across a great site from David Lebovitz where he describes a quick tutorial for making your own confit fruit.  I got excited for a moment imagining homemade confit pear, and raspberries before I realised the confit process would take a few days to execute… so I will have to put this project aside for a rainy weekend to investigate further.

So, given the fact that I am committed on the ‘dish a day’ challenge, I decided to take a little creative license when delivering on this recipe, and to use fresh pear and raspberry instead on the preserved version.  I think it works well with the almond mixture and the taste is wonderfully light and luscious.

I am also going to extend upon Gabriel’s original recipe and share with you my favourite recipe for sweet short crust pastry.  I learnt this recipe from Susan Loomis of Rue Tatin fame  while I was a student at her brilliant cooking school in Normandy.  The first thing I learnt from Susan regarding pastry (and indeed any food preparation) is not to ‘make it nervous’ by overworking it; secondly keep your hands cool; and thirdly try to gently and firmly ‘urge’ your pastry out (don’t just roll your pastry to death with your rolling pin).  After more than 6 years of making sweet pastry this way, I can hand on heart say that making pastry is easy.  Don’t be scared of it.  Do it quickly, purposefully, with minimal fuss and make sure you give it enough time to rest.  Follow these pointers and everything will be okay (and remember that practice makes perfect and the mistakes are still very tasty!)

Ingredients

For the sweet pastry:

  • 1 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup of caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 125g butter cut into cubes and slightly softened
  • A few drops of vanilla essence (or use vanillin sugar in place of the plain caster sugar)

For the cake

  • 1 batch of sweet short crust pastry (recipe above) or 400g store bought pastry
  • 60 g (¼ cup) apricot jam
  • 150 g (5 oz) variety (3-4) of diced confit fruits (I replaced this with thinly sliced fresh pear and frozen raspberries)
  • 80 g (3½ oz) almond meal
  • 80 g (3½ oz) caster sugar
  • 3 egg whites*
  • a pinch of cream of tartar
  • 50 g (2 oz) icing sugar, sifted

*Note: I used 4 egg whites just to use up what was left over from the pastry making and increased the sugar and almond meal measures to 100g each.

How to do it

Ready to get your hands dirty...?

Ready to get your hands dirty…?

Firstly make your pastry.  Find a clean, clear work surface and sift your flour directly on to it.  Make a well in the centre and tip the caster sugar and salt into the middle.  Separate your eggs (keep the whites for the cake filling).  Add the yolks to the sugar and use your fingers to blend until the sugar is dissolved (try not to catch up too much flour while mixing).

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Pound the butter to soften it and work it in...

Pound the butter to soften it and work it in…

When the sugar and egg mix is thoroughly blended, add in a few drops of vanilla (if not using vanillin sugar) and lightly blend with your fingers.  Add the chopped butter to the egg mix and push it down with your fingers to soften slightly and blend with the egg.  Use your fingers to swirl and push the mixture around, incorporating the flour bit by bit as you go (sorry I don’t have photos for this part – very messy hands!).

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Push the pastry away from you smearing it along the bench with the heel of your hand...

Push the pastry away from you smearing it along the bench with the heel of your hand…

As the mixture starts to come together, pull the flour in with your fingers and then push the mixture down and away from you using the heel of your hand in a scraping motion.  Continue this action until the mixture is just combined and the butter is incorporated, without overworking it.

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Smooth and ready to wrap and rest...

Smooth and ready to wrap and rest…

Form the pastry into a ball and flatten out to a disc shape.  Wrap it in clingfilm and leave it to rest for 30min to 1 hour (refrigerate if weather is warm).

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Urge, urge, urge...

Urge, urge, urge…

Now it’s time to get on with the cake.  Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius and roll out (urge) your pastry to suit a loose bottomed tart tin (mine is about 23cm I think).  The trick with rolling pastry is to flour your work surface and the pastry well (and often) and to turn (rotate) the pastry every couple of rolls to prevent it sticking.   Line the tart tin and trim the excess pastry from the edges before putting the whole tin the in the freezer to rest while you get on with the filling.

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I love my Kitchenaid, I truly do! (Unpaid comment!)

I love my Kitchenaid, I truly do! (unpaid comment!)

Start the filling by whisking up the 4 egg whites in an electric or stand mixer with a pinch of cream of tartar.  While this is whisking measure and mix the almond meal and caster sugar.  When the egg whites have reached stiff peaks stage take them off the mixer and gently fold in the almond meal and sugar mixture.

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Doesn't that look delish...?

Doesn’t that look delish…?

Remove the tart tin from the freezer and spread the base of the pastry case with the apricot jam.  Top the jam with the chopped confit fruit (or very thinly sliced pear and raspberries if you are following my adaptation).

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Mellowy goodness!

Mellowy goodness! Dollop it on like this and then spread it  almost to the edge.

Gently spread the merengue mixture over the top of the fruit, until it stops just short of the pastry edges to allow for some expansion of the merengue mixture when cooking  (you really only need a little bit of room).

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Pretty and snowy, but excessive ... you dont need as much as I used!

Pretty and snowy, but excessive … you dont need as much as I used!

Sift over the icing sugar before baking in the oven for 30 minutes.  The idea is that the icing sugar will form a crust while cooking.  I did not measure this part and went a bit overboard with my icing sugar, so I still had a little white left when my cooking time was up, but it still tasted great!

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Nougat cake from Tours

Nougat cake from Tours

All done!  Just at tip – watch this cake in the oven.  My oven is usually a bit slow, however my nose was sending me warning signals on this one when the timer still had 7-8 minutes left of cooking time.  As it was, the pastry and top looked a bit over baked to me, but still tasted okay.  I think next time I will bake at 180 degrees celsius for 30 minutes and see how it goes.

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