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Archive for Candy & Confections

RECIPE: Strawberry Pistachio Nougat + Nougat History

If your Mother’s Day celebration includes nougat fans, whip up a batch of this Strawberry Pistachio Nougat from chef and cookbook author Samir Nosrat.

Nougat (U.S. pronunciation: NOO-got, French pronounciation NOO-gah) is a family of chewy confections made with sugar or honey, roasted nuts, whipped egg whites, and sometimes, chopped candied fruit (photo #7, below).

It can be cut into rectangles or squares, broken into irregular pieces like toffee or dipped in chocolate (nougat bars, or enrobed bonbons.

We saw one recipe where the nougat was cut layered onto a brownies between the cake and the frosting; and a recipe for Snickers Brownies that adds a layer of caramel as well.

Nougat is a regular ingredient in popular candy* bars and chocolates—including those you would never suspect, because the nougat blends into a very different consistency and appearance (follow the asterisk).

TYPES OF NOUGAT

There are three basic kinds of nougat.

  • The most common is white nougat, photo #6 below, is known in Italy as torrone and mandorlato in Italy, turrón in Spain, and nougat (the “t” is not pronounced) in France. It is a simple recipe: beaten egg whites, and honey and nuts. It first appeared in Cologna Veneta, Italy, in the early 15th century. The first published recipe in Spain appears in Alicante, in the 16th century. The first recipe found in France is from Montélimar, in the 18th century. White nougat is used as the base for modern flavored nougats.
  • Spanish turrón follows the traditional recipe, with toasted almonds (minimum 60% almond content!), sugar, honey, and egg whites.
  • Italian torrone (photo #6) includes these same basic ingredients, using different nuts (no legal minimum) plus vanilla or citrus flavoring. It is often sandwiched between two very thin sheets of rice paper (photo #4, cocoa-flavored).
  • Venetian nougat, made in the town of Cologna Veneta is well known for its nougat production, especially the type called mandorlato. It is made from honey, sugar, egg whites and almonds (mandorle in Italian). It has a different taste and a harder bite than torrone.
  • British nougat is traditionally made in the style of the Italian and Spanish varieties. The most common industrially-produced nougat, commonly found at fairgrounds and seaside resorts, is colored pink and white, with almonds and cherries. The pink nougat is often fruit-flavored. It is sometimes wrapped in edible rice paper, which keeps stickiness from the fingers.
  • U.S. candy artisans make conventional white nougat to modern flavors and colors: black cherry, café au lait, cranberry, matcha, pumpkin and so forth. There’s even an all-American chocolate-peanut nougat (photo #5).
  •  
    The Other Types Of Nougat

  • The second is type is brown nougat, called nougat noir (NOO-gah-NWAHR) in French (which literally means black nougat). It is made without egg whites and has a firmer, often crunchy texture. See photo #8 below, which (like most of the photos) links to the recipe.
  • The third type of nougat is known as German or Viennese nougat. It contains only sugar, cocoa butter, nuts (usually hazelnuts) and cocoa mass, and has a soft consistency, similar to gianduja (chocolate and ground hazelnuts, also known as hazelnut praliné. It is often sliced from a loaf. This is the style called “nougat” in Germany and Austria, as well as in Denmark and Sweden. In the latter two countries, the original white nougat is referred to as “French nougat.” In Germany, is simply called nougat [source]. See photo #10, below.
  • ________________

    *In the U .S. alone: Baby Ruth, Big Hunk, Charleston Chews, Mars Bar, Milky Way, Pay Day, Reese’s Fast Break, Snickers, Three Musketeers, Zero Bar. However, the nougat that appears in many modern candy bars in the U.S. and U.K. is different from traditional recipes, including in several cases, the original recipes of those candy bars.

    Modern candy bar nougat is often a mixture of sucrose and corn syrup, aerated with a whipping agent such as egg white or hydrolyzed soy protein or gelatin. It may also include vegetable fats and milk powder. This type of nougat is often used as a filler by large candy companies, since it’s inexpensive to make. Typically, it is used plain or chocolate-flavored, or combined with nuts, caramel and/or chocolate to make the body of the candy bar. But some American confections feature such nougat as the primary component, rather than one of several.
    ________________

    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY PISTACHIO NOUGAT

    These are shown in photo #1 (rectangle cut) and photo #2 (square cut). Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time is 10 minutes.

    For step-by-step photo, visit ACozyKitchen.com. While you’re there, sign up for the inspiring blog feed.

    Ingredients For 14 Pieces

  • 1/2 cup freeze-dried strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Optional: 2 drops red food coloring
  • 2/3 cup chopped pistachios
  •  
    Plus

  • Loaf pan
  • Parchment or wax paper
  • Spatula, pre-sprayed with cooking spray
  •    

    Strawberry Nougat

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/strawberry pistachio nougat acozykitchen 230

    Rosewater Pistachio Nougat

    Chocolate Almond Nougat

    Chocolate Peanut Nougat

    White nougat (or its colored variations) can be cut into [1] fingers or [2] squares (recipe at left; photo courtesy A Cozy Kitchen). [3] Another pink nougat; East meets West in this rosewater, pistachio and cranberry nougat. Here’s the recipe from The Healthy Cook. [4] A variation of Italian torrone with cocoa (chocolate) flavoring and almonds, with edible rice paper on the top and bottom. Here’s the recipe from Butter Baking. [5] The All-American: chocolate peanut nougat. Here’s the recipe from Kitchen Sanctuary.

     
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the freeze-dried strawberries in a food processor. Pulse until the strawberries turn into a powder (a clumpy texture is O.K.). Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

    2. LINE a 8 x 5-inch (a 9 x 5-inch will work too) loaf pan with wax paper or parchment, making sure there are a few inches of flaps on each side (this will make the removal of the nougat super easy). Spray a spatula with cooking spray.

    3. COMBINE the sugar, corn syrup, honey, water and salt in a medium saucepan. Give it a light stir until everything dissolves; then cook until a digital thermometer reads 260°F (the hardball stage).

    4. ADD the egg whites to the bowl of a stand-up mixer (or use a hand-mixer) and beat on low until they begin to get frothy and eventually turn into stiff peaks. While beating the stiff egg whites at low, slowly pour in the sugar syrup (step 3). Immediately add the powdered strawberries.

    5. TURN the speed of the mixer to high and beat until the candy starts to thicken and hold a bit of shape, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour in the pistachios and transfer the nougat to the loaf pan, using the pre-sprayed spatula—the nougat will be sticky.

    6. TOP with a sheet of wax paper. Press the top of the wax paper down to the surface so the top of the nougat will be smooth and even. Allow to set at room temperature for about 2 hours. When the nougat has set…

    7. LIFT up the sides the wax paper, remove the top sheet and spray a sharp knife with cooking spray. Cut up the nougat with a sharp knife into slices or 1 x 1-inch cubes.

    Nougat will stay fresh for a week when kept in an airtight container.

     

    Pistachio Nougat

    White Chocolate Nougat With Nuts & Candied Fruits

    Nougat Noir With Hazelnuts

    Brown Nougat

    German Nougat

    [6] Classic vanilla nougat with nuts (here, pistachios, although almonds are common and any nut can be used). Here’s the recipe from Aran Goyoaga, Canelle et Vanille. [7] White chocolate nougat with nuts and fruits. Photo © Elizabeth LaBau. Here’s the recipe from The Spruce. [8] Brown nougat, a.k.a. nougat noir, with hazelnuts. Here’s the recipe (in French) from Les Foodies, and [9] a loaf recipe recipe (in Italian) from Tavolarte Gusto). [10] German or Viennese nougat: hazelnut praline (photo courtesy Juergen Jeibmann | German Wikipedia).

     

    THE HISTORY OF NOUGAT

    The French word nougat, adopted by English speakers, comes from Occitan (dialect of Provence, France) pan nogat, likely derived from the Latin panis nucatus, nut bread. In late colloquial Latin, the adjective nucatum means nutted or nutty.

    The earliest known recipes for white nougat, which probably came from Central Asia, have been found in the Middle East.

    A 10th century book from Baghdad (in modern Iraq) calls the recipe natif. One of the recipes indicates that the it comes from Harran, a city located between Urfa, now in southeast Turkey. Another comes from Aleppo, in Syria.

    Mention of natif is found in works from the triangle between Urfa, Aleppo and Baghdad.

    At the end of the 10th century, the traveler and geographer Ibn Hawqal wrote that he ate some natif in Manbij (in modern Syria) and Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan) [source].

    When it reached southern Europe, notably Italy and Spain, nougat (called, respectively, torrone and turrón) was a specialty associated with the Christmas season.

    Next Stop: Renaissance Italy

    Thanks to Flamingi, makers of fine Italian nougat, for helping us to continue the story.

    We start with a tale, likely apocryphal. It takes place in the city of Cremona, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. On October 25, 1441: Bianca Maria Visconti was married to Francesco Sforza. The union allowed the Sforza family to dominate the Duchy of Milan for the next half century.

    According to the story, nougat (torrone) was first created for the wedding feast.

    It was made in it the shape of the Torrazzo, the bell tower of the Cremona cathedral. The claim is that torrone derives from “Torrazzo” (but wait….)

    Is the story too good to be true? Yes: It seems to have been cited for the first time in a monograph published by the Chamber of Commerce of Cremona in 1914.

    Earlier Claims From The Other End Of Italy

    Let’s head south, to Benevento, the main town of the ancient Sannio region (in Latin, Samnium) in the southern part of Italy in what is now Campania. The people there lay claim to have having invented torrone.

    As proof, they refer to the Roman historian Livy (Titus Livius, 59 B.C.E. to 17 C.E.) and the Roman poet Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis, 40 C.E. to 104 C.E.), claiming that these ancients documented in their writings the existence of nougat in that area, called cupedia.

    However, in this digitized world, research cannot find a mention of cupedia. There is a similar Latin word, cuppedia, that does not appear in the writings of Livy and Martial.

    Cuppedia can be translated as the deadly sin of gluttony, or as a delicacy. But what type of delicacy?

    Italy As The Origin Gets Very Confusing

    In various Italian dialects there are similar words: cupeta, copeta, copata and coppetta, which identify sweets similar to nougat or croccante, a product made with almonds or hazelnuts bound with caramelized sugar.

    Cupeta and torrone are traditional products not only in Sannio, but also in Abruzzo, Calabria, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Lombardy, Marche, Molise, Piedmont, Puglia, Sardinia, Tuscany, Valtellina, Veneto and finally, in Sicily, where croccante is called cubbaita.

    That’s a lot of territory, for one to claim to be “the first” to invent torrone, absent any documentation.

    By the 16th century, however, torrone is documented for sale in some apothecaries. Earlier, by the 15th century, turrón is documented in Spain.

    The Spanish word, turrón, is quite similar to the Italian word torrone, and its most reliable source can be found in the Latin verb torrere, which means to toast (the nuts).

    So take that, Torrazo bell tower of the Cremona cathedral! Take that, Benevento. We’re sticking with the Middle East, around the 10th century.

    Back To The Middle East

    References there to “roasted seeds kept together by a sweet paste” can equally refer to other products produced in many countries, starting with the Middle Eastern halva, made from ground sesame seeds and honey.

    Some scholars suggest it originated before the 12th century, in Byzantium, and is documented at least by the 13th century—so nougat/natif is older.

    Similar roasted seeds or nuts bound with a sweet paste can be found in other Middle Eastern Countries, as well as in the Slavic countries, and as far away as India.

    While the earliest residents of the Middle East ate dates and figs and honey† as their “candy,” their descendants combined ingredients into more complex sweets.

     
    Now, we just need someone to dig up documented information in Central Asia (from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east, from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north) to discover the first mention of nougat—whatever it was called there.

    Honey: The Oldest Candy

    Archaeologists have found beehive colonies in Israel, dating from the 10th to early 9th centuries B.C.E. [source].

    But honey is far older than mankind—very far.

    Honeybees first appeared during the Cretaceous Period, about 130 million years ago, in the area around what is now India.

    But it was during a Pleistocene warming about 2-3 million years ago, that the honeybee spread west into Europe and then Africa (still no mankind†), stopping in the Middle East en route [source].
     
     
    DO YOU LIKE FOOD HISTORY?

    THE NIBBLE has written some 200 histories of foods, beverages, and cooking techniques.

    Some are just a couple of paragraphs, some are as long as the history above, and most are in-between.

    You can find all the links on our food histories page.

    ________________

    †Species of early Homonids appeared in Africa about 2 million years ago and went extinct, as did all the other hominid lines before Homo sapiens. The modern species of Homo appeared about 600,000 years ago in Africa and migrated from there to Europe and Asia. The Neanderthals appeared in Europe about 130,000 years ago, distinguished by their manufacture of diverse tools and evidence of symbolic thinking. [source].

    Thus far, the earliest discovery of modern Homo sapiens skeletons come from Africa and date to nearly 200,000 years ago. They appear in Southwest Asia around 100,000 years ago and elsewhere in the Old World by 60,000-40,000 years ago [source].

      

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    PRODUCTS: 5 New Favorite Specialty Foods

    Four of this month’s roundup of favorite products will brighten your dinner table, and the last will satisfy your sweet tooth.

    In alphabetical order, they are:

    1. CRACKER BARREL Oven BAKED MACARONI & CHEESE

    Cracker Barrel Cheese’s premium mac & cheese line has launched Oven Baked Macaroni & Cheese (photo #1) in three flavors:

  • Sharp Cheddar, seasoned with paprika and ground mustard.
  • Sharp White Cheddar, seasoned with black pepper and ground mustard.
  • Cheddar Havarti, seasoned with garlic and chives.
  •  
    Fans of oven-baked mac and cheese prefer it for the crispy edges and the toasted bread crumbs. The bread crumbs are included, as well as flavorful seasonings; and the level of crispiness is up to you.

    Just boil the noodles and mix the seasoning packet with melted butter and milk. Add the cheese sauce and the flavor mix, spoon into a baking dish and top with the toasted breadcrumbs.

    Get yours at major retailers nationwide. Suggested Retail Price is $3.99 for a 12.34-ounce package.

    For more information visit the Cracker Barrel Cheese website.
     
     
    2. DELTA BLUES RICE GRITS

    Delta Blues Rice (that’s the Mississippi Delta) is a fourth-generation family business that grows artisan rice. If you think that all white rice tastes the same, you won’t believe how much more flavorful it is than supermarket brands.

    The company sells the rice in white and brown rice and rice grits, all made in small batches and milled for freshness.

    We’ve enjoyed cornmeal grits since we were small fry, but had never tasted rice grits until the folks at Delta Blues Rice sent us a sample (photos #2 and #3).

    We devoured the package and ordered more. For those who avoid corn-based foods, they’re a real find.

    If you come from a grits-loving family, load up on them as gifts or favors for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

    Get yours at DeltaBluesRice.com.
     
     
    3. ENTUBE FLAVOR PASTES

    Big flavors come from little tubes. Entube is a line of flavorful pastes in three international flavors: curry, harissa and umeboshi (photos #4 and #5).

    These are great to have on hand and are so easy to use. Instead of adding more salt when a dish needs some pizzazz, just add a bit of flavor paste—to anything from grains to cheese fondue to soups and stews.

    We tried two of the three flavors: Curry and Harissa. Here’s how we used them.

    3a. Entube Harissa Paste

  • Dip: Combine with yogurt to your desired spice level and use as dip for crudités or tortilla chips.
  • Sauce: Stir some paste into pasta sauce or the hollandaise sauce for Eggs Benedict (quite wonderful). With a mushroom sauce for roast chicken, add 1-1/2 teaspoons for 1 cup sauce.
  • Spread: Add to mayo for a great sandwich spread.
  •  
    Roast Chicken: About 15 minutes before the chicken is due to come out of the oven, combine harissa-flavored plain yogurt with the hot drippings. Baste the chicken twice, five minutes apart. For the second basting, add the juice of 1/2 lemon to the yogurt and drippings, along with a bit of kosher salt to taste. This will slightly caramelize and crisp the skin.

    Grilled Lamb: Morroccan lamb dishes are classically made with a harissa spice rub. We made a rack of lamb with the yogurt-Harissa Paste mix (4 tablespoons yogurt with 1 teaspoon paste) and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Brush it in on at the start of roasting and once more 5 minutes from the end. It perks up the slightly gamy flavor of lamb beautifully. (Cooking time for medium rare lamb is 22 minutes in a 425°F oven.)

       

    Cracker Barrel Baked Mac & Cheese

    Delta Blues Rice Grits

    Rice Grits

    Entube Flavor Pastes

    Paella With Harissa

    [1] We love baked mac & cheese with crispy edges (photo courtesy Cracker Barrel). [2] Calling all grits lovers for great rice grits (photo courtesy Delta Blues Rice). [3] Rice grits (photo courtesy Neniemi Food). [4] Entube flavor pastes and [5] Entube harissa spices up paella (photos courtesy Entube | Facebook).

     
    Moroccan Chicken Kabobs: Cube 1 pound of chicken breasts and marinate for 3-4 hours in 3 teaspoons Harissa Paste, juice of 1 lemon, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, with an optional teaspoon of smoked paprika. Skewer onto pre-soaked (30 minutes) wooden skewers or lightly oiled metal skewers. Broil or grill, turning often. Brush with the marinade halfway through and continue until browned and cooked through, 16 minutes total. Serve hot.

    3b. Entube Curry Paste

    Mushroom Sauce: Boost the umami flavor in creamy mushroom sauces. Add as much paste as you like, tasting as you go in 1/2 teaspoon increments. The curry flavor was not overpowering and added depth to the character of the mushrooms. This combination also works in mushroom tarts.

    Grilled Shrimp: Marinate 1 pound deveined shrimp in a yogurt marinade made with 1/2 cup yogurt and 2 teaspoons of curry paste, the juice of 1 lime, mustard oil or coconut oil, chili powder to taste and 2 teaspoons of grated, peeled ginger root. Marinate in the fridge for 2-4 hours. Just before grilling (on medium-high), remove shrimp and wipe off the excess marinade with paper towels. Grill until black spots begin to appear, about 3 minutes per side. Delicious!

    The one complaint we have with the pastes is that there is too much added ascorbic acid (vitamin C)—almost 20%. If you have a sophisticated palate, you may notice a slightly medicinal acidic tang that is not as clean and lively as would have been given by lemon or lime. You can mask it by adding some real lemon or lime juice.

    Find a store locator on the company website.

     

    Salt With Sea Vegetables

    Werther's Cocoa Creme Caramels

    Werther's Sugar Free Caramels

    [6] Sea salt meets seaweed in these tasty blends (photo courtesy Sea Veg). [7] Werther’s new Cocoa Crème Soft Caramels and [8] longtime favorites, the sugar-free caramels line (photos courtesy Werther’s Original).

     

    4. MAINE MADE SEA SEASONINGS

    This naturally iodized sea salt has a little something extra: sea vegetables, including dulse and kelp, seaweeds known for their high vitamin and mineral content.

    The entire line of seaweed-based products are harvested in Maine waters; and the line is targeted to people who want to get the most nutrition they can from their foods.

    Here are the nutritional values of both seaweeds.

    Not that we don’t want the best nutrition; but we like these sea salts for their flavor, especially with rice and other grains and starches. And, we’re big flavor fans of Japanese seaweed, dried or fresh [which is actually reconstituted dry seaweed].

    The company offers variations of the sea salt with added cayenne or garlic; and with other seaweeds. Another product of interest is the applewood-smoked nori sheets.

    Find out more at SeaVeg.com.
     
     
    5. WERTHER’S ORIGINAL NEW COCOA CREME SOFT CARAMELS

    Werther’s newest flavor can be attributed to American palates: a survey of more than 1,000 American adults found that 44% chose caramel as their favorite candy flavor to combine with chocolate. The next closest is mint, at 19%.

    Werther’s Original Cocoa Crème Soft Caramels pair their yummy soft caramel with a cocoa crème filling.

    They join Werther’s other dual-flavor caramels, including Caramel Apple and Coffee Caramel.

    We love soft caramels. Aside from the pricey ones from artisan chocolatiers, Werther’s is our favorite everyday brand.

    Another thing we love about the brand is the sugar-free options.

    The line includes hard, chewy, soft and filled caramels, as well as the sugar-free caramels in seven flavors (the chewy sugar-free caramels and chocolate caramels are a must-try) and caramel popcorn.

    As they say at the company, they’re a treat that’s truly “werth it.”

    For more information visit Werther’s Original USA.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Old Fashioned Sponge (Honeycomb) Candy, Anytime & For Passover

    Our colleague Hannah Kaminsky of Bittersweet Blog wondered about the old-fashioned confection variously known as:

  • Angel food candy (Wisconsin)
  • Cinder toffee (Canada and U.K.)
  • Dalgona (South Korea)
  • Fairy food candy (Chicago, Wisconsin)
  • Hokey pokey (New Zealand)
  • Honeycomb candy (Australia, South Africa, U.K.)
  • Honeycomb toffee (Australia)
  • Karumeyaki (Japan)
  • Old fashioned puff (Massachusetts)
  • Puff candy (Scotland)
  • Sea foam (California, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Utah, Pacific Northwest)
  • Sponge candy (Buffalo and Western New York (photos #1 and #2); Milwaukee, Wisconsin; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Northwest Pennsylvania)
  • Sponge toffee (U.K.) and tire éponge (sponge candy in French-speaking Canada)
  • Törökméz, Turkish honey (Hungary)
  •  
    ….and, no doubt, other names in other places [source].

    They all describe a confection that’s crunchy, crisp in the center, and melts in your mouth.

    While there’s no molasses in it, the caramelization of the sugar gives it a bit of molasses flavor. You can have it covered in chocolate, or not.

    Hannah wondered: “Where did all those names come from, and why did they keep renaming the exact same candy?” She set out on a mission to make her own.

    “I cooked and caramelized, stirred and stewed, bubbled, boiled, and crystallized my very own sweet. If anything, what I created was even darker and more powerful than the old-fashioned candies you can purchase.

    “I used cocoa and dark chocolate, of course, and cacao nibs for extra crunch. But the real secret ingredient here is chocolate extract.”

    The spongy airiness of the candy is based on the middle school volcano trick demonstrated in science class: Baking soda plus vinegar equals bubbles.

    You’ll have a mini-volcano in your mixing bowl in Step 5, below. It’s fun, as long as you’re forewarned.

    As with Chocolate Matzoh, a.k.a. Matza Toffee, a.k.a. Matzo Buttercrunch, a.k.a. whatever, sponge candy is a treat you can make for Passover.

    But don’t make it in the summer heat and humidity and plan to serve it at a picnic or barbecue. If you need a fix, make it and eat it in the comfort of your air-conditioned home.

    Ready to make some four-chocolate sponge candy (photos #3 and #4)?

       

    Sponge Candy

    Sponge Candy

    Sponge Candy

    [1] and [2] Sponge candy from Watson’s Chocolates in Buffalo, New York, a town famous for its sponge candy. [3] You can find sponge candy worldwide, often under different names. This angel food candy is from Kitch Me in Australia.

     

    Sponge Candy

    Sponge Candy

    Honeycomb Candy Recipe

    [4] and [5] Homemade sponge candy from Hannah Kaminsky, Bittersweet Blog. [6] Hold the chocolate! This recipe for “honeycomb candy” is from The Pioneer Woman.

     

    RECIPE: HANNAH KAMINSKY’S QUADRUPLE CHOCOLATE SPONGE CANDY/HONEYCOMB CANDY

    If you don’t want chocolate, you can make sponge candy without it. Here’s a recipe.

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 5 tablespoons water, divided
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon chocolate extract
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 ounces quality dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cacao nibs
  •  
    Plus

  • Cooking thermometer
  •  
    Preparation

    1. LINE an 8 x 8-inch baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease. The parchment doesn’t need to fit perfectly inside the pan, as long as it covers the bottom and sides without any holes for the liquid candy to escape through.

    2. COMBINE the sugar, agave, 4 tablespoons of the water, and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and place over medium heat. Swirl the pan gently to mix the ingredients as the sugar slowly melts, but avoid stirring from this point forward to prevent premature crystallization. Meanwhile…

    3. MIX together the remaining tablespoon of water, cocoa powder and chocolate extract in a small dish; set this cocoa paste aside.

    4. COOK the sugar until the mixture is caramelized and reaches 300° to 310°F, also known in candy-making as the hard crack stage. Remove the pan from the heat. Things will move very quickly from here, so be on your toes.

    5. VIGOROUSLY STIR in the cocoa paste along with the baking soda, allowing the mixture to froth and foam violently. Immediately transfer the liquid candy mixture to your prepared baking dish but do not spread or smooth it down. Allow it to settle naturally to maintain the structure of the fine bubbles trapped within.

    6. COOL for at least 1 hour until fully set. To finish, melt the the dark chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, heating at intervals of 30 seconds and stirring thoroughly between each one, until completely smooth. Pour over the top of the candy base and spread it evenly across the surface. Sprinkle with the cacao nibs and let rest until solidified.

     
    7. BREAK the candy into pieces and enjoy—but enjoy it quickly. Enjoy it within three days at room temperature, storing in an airtight container.

    If you’re bringing it as a gift: It’s fragile, so transport it carefully.

    And may we suggest: crushed or sliced sponge candy makes an exquisite topping for vanilla ice cream, or layers in a parfait.

    THE HISTORY OF SPONGE CANDY

    Sponge candy is known by so many different names that it’s difficult to discern where it originated. The closest we can find in English is that sponge candy was produced as early as 1913 in Beamish, a village in northwestern England’s Durham County. It was made in copper pans over an open fire.

    We do know that in the U.K., the Cadbury Sponge Candy Company first mass-produced sponge toffee in 1929, and created the Crunchie chocolate bar with a sponge candy center.

    In the U.S., the product called sponge candy took root in Buffalo, New York, which is still the sponge candy capital of the country.
    It is an airy variation of toffee with a light, sponge-like texture.

    Different versions of sponge candy have come and gone, as you can read in this article from an octogenarian who remembers it from 1940s New England.

    But look internationally, and you can find that the Turkish version, törökméz, dates back to ancient Turkish cuisine and was adopted in Hungary during the Ottoman Era* [source].

    Did a candy maker from Hungary settle in Buffalo? Does sponge candy date to Anatolia (most of modern Turkey).

    Neighboring Persia (the modern Islamic Republic of Iran) was cultivating sugar by the sixth century C.E. The ancient Sumerians in Babylonia were making vinegar from way, way back to 5000 B.C.E.

    So, what we think of as 20th-century sponge candy may have been the continuation of an ancient recipe.

    ________________

    *Ottoman Hungary was the territory of Medieval Hungary that was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1541 to 1699. More.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Decorate Snacks With Candy Melts

    With Easter coming, you may want to get a bit craftsy.

    We’re not suggesting that you mold your own chocolate bunnies, make rocher nests of almonds and chocolate filled with your own truffles, or take on homemade Peeps.

    Rather, just decorate some of your everyday favorite snacks with drizzled candy melts in seasonal colors.

    It is as simple as:

  • Heating a drizzle pouch or two of candy melt drizzle (photo #1) in the microwave.
  • Laying cookies, potato chips, pretzels or other snacks on a baking sheet.
  • Snipping off a corner of the pouch and drizzling the color(s) over the snacks.
  • Chilling until set, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  •  
    That’s it!

    As with chocolate, candy melt brands vary by quality and price. Merckens* and Wilton are two quality brands.

    You also want to use fresh melts—nothing that’s been sitting in a cupboard (or on a retailer’s shelf) for a year.

    Here are some examples of colors to play with:

    WILTON CANDY MELTS

    Colors – Vanilla Flavor*

  • Bright Green
  • Bright Pink
  • Bright White
  • Red (vanilla flavor)
  • Turquoise
  •  
    Other Flavors† & Colors

  • Light Cocoa flavored (dark brown)
  • Mint Chip flavored (lighter green)
  • Peanut Butter flavored (light brown)
  • Salted Caramel (light brown)
  •  
    Wilton drizzle is $1.99 for a 2-ounce/56g pouch. One package covers 3 dozen mini pretzels, as shown in photo #1.

    You can buy them online or check the Wilton store locator for a retailer near you.

    Don’t buy candy melts way in advance to keep until you need them: Fresh candy melts work better.
     
     
    ________________

    *All colors of Merckens wafers are flavored with artificial vanilla, as are the vanilla-flavored colors from Wilton. Candy melts are great for decorating, and people, and some people melt the wafers into colored bark and other candy. But flavor-wise, they are no substitute for chocolate—or for hand-tinted white chocolate.

    †These are artificial flavors as well. The chocolate varieties are flavored with cocoa.

    ________________

       

    Pretzels With Candy Coating

    Drizzled Chocolate Potato Chips

    Homemade Cracker Jacks

    Flower Bites With  Pretzels & M&Ms

    Recipes for [1] [2] and [3] from Wilton: drizzled pretzels, drizzled potato chips and colored peanuts-and-popcorn. [4] Flower bites made with pretzels and Easter M&Ms, bound together with white candy melts. Here are instructions from Two Sisters Crafting.

     

    Merckens Candy Melts

    Merck's Candy Melts

    [5] Candy melts come in a rainbow of colors, that can be blended together to make still other colors. [6] These may look like chocolate wafers from a fine chocolatier, but they’re candy coating—candy melts—without any cocoa butter (both photos courtesy Merckens).

     

    WHAT ARE CANDY MELTS?

    Candy melts are not quite chocolate, but they look like it.

    They are made in two formats: disks/wafers to melt and then use to decorate confections (used to adhere the M&Ms in photo #4 and larger projects like these), and microwaveable pouches to drizzle (the used in photos #1, #2 and #3).

    Candy melts have several other names: compound coating, confectionary coating, decorator’s chocolate, pâté glacée and summer coating.

    Candy melts are an imitation chocolate product that substitutes vegetable oil for all or part of the cocoa butter in chocolate. In milk chocolate-flavored melts, whey powders, whey derivatives and dairy blends can be used instead of powdered milk.

    Thus, the flavor of candy melts is not as fine as chocolate. If you bite into a piece of “chocolate” that doesn’t taste as rich or velvety on the tongue, it may well be made from candy melts.

    People who think they “hate white chocolate” may have experienced white candy melts instead: artificial chocolate flavored with artificial vanilla. Sometimes, the most beautiful creations are crafted from candy melts that don’t taste as good as they should.

    In the U.S., commercial products made with confectionary coating must be designated “chocolate-flavored.”

    Why do people use candy melts if it isn’t as tasty?

  • It is significantly less expensive than chocolate (and kids likely won’t notice the difference).
  • For color, it is easier than tinting white chocolate.
  • It does not require tempering, but melts easily.
  • It can be thinned out to make as delicate a decoration as the user wants.
  • It hardens quickly, and once hardened, does not melt in the heat like chocolate.
  •  
    Before universal air conditioning, chocolatiers used confectionary coating to create their summer wares, including chocolate-dipped fruit.

    The white coating was often tinted pastel pink, blue and green. The products were called “summer chocolate,” not artificial chocolate.

    Again, that’s why so many people dislike white “chocolate.” Give the best white chocolate a try.
     
     
    TIPS

    There are plenty of videos on YouTube and online articles that explain how to work with the disks. However, since the ideas above use only the drizzling pouches, not much instruction is needed except: Start with a very small cut in the pouch or your drizzle may wider than you’d like.

    Here’s how to read the freshness code on candy melts bags.

     

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Seed & Mill Halva Is Halva Heaven

    Seed + Mill Halva

    Seed + Mill Halva

    Seed + Mill Halva

    Seed + Mill Halva

    Halva With Ground Coffee Beans

    Halva With Pop Rocks

    Halva Dessert Plate

    Halva Dessert Plate

    Halva Cake

    [1] Clockwise from top: rose, cinnamon, pistachio and coffee. [2] Chocolate chile halva. [3] Lavender halva. [4] From the front: chocolate orange, date, lemongrass and marble. [5] Caffeinated, with ground coffee beans. [6] Vanilla topped with Pop Rocks. [7] A halva dessert plate: mixed flavors and fruits. [8] Dessert plate of halva with dried fruit. [9] For a special occasion cake, just add a candle. All photos courtesy Seed + Mill.

     

    Halva versus halvah? Who cares how to spell it*, when it tastes this good.

    The sweet confection’s name derives from the Arabic word halwa, which means…sweet confection.

    The best halva we can imagine comes from a relatively new company, Seed + Mill, founded by three friends in New York City, one of whom grew up in Israel.

    The company was born when the latter friend couldn’t find quality tahini in the U.S., and decided to grind her own. Fresh tahini is ground on-site at their store in Chelsea Market, New York City, and sold along with other sesame-based products.

    The company says that theirs is the only store in the U.S. that solely purveys sesame seed products (although we noted a frozen yogurt machine with goat’s milk yogurt).

    While all products are excellent, our food-life-changing experience was engendered by the sesame-based confection, halva(h). Seed + Mill makes the most ethereal, exquisite halva we can imagine—and we have been halva-deprived, for reasons we’ll explain in a bit.
     
    ARTISAN HALVA

    Seed + Mill distinguishes its products using white sesame seeds from Ethiopia, considered the world’s best. Known for their richness of flavor, they are grown in the area of Humera, a city in the northwest corner of Ethiopia, at the borders of Sudan and Eritrea.

    Most of the sesame used for halva and tahini sold in the U.S. is made from seeds from India and Mexico, and are not as flavorful. Hence, our disappointment with the halva available to us.

    Seed + Mill’s sesame seeds are shipped from Humera to Israel, where they are roasted. Some stay in for a bit in Israel, to be ground in small batches and turned into halva. Whole roasted seeds are shipped to New York, to be ground into tahini.

    The halva is made by small Israeli producers to the company’s specifications. The producers use ancient artisan technique—no machines, but caldrons, paddles and troughs. The sugar is boiled and whipped into a foam that produces the melting lightness of the confection. Vigorous hand-kneading produces the finest, fluffiest halvah.

    Although halva is approximately half sesame paste and half sugar, you can assuage some of the guilt with sesame’s enviable nutrition† and heart healthy fats.

    The confection is only mildly sweet, the opposite of fudge and American candy bars.

    And let us add: Seed + Mill has as much in common with halva brands like Joyva as McDonald’s has with Per Se.

    Even the large halva cakes sold at Zabar’s and shops on the Lower East Side have become so mediocre through the use of cheaper ingredients, that we gave up eating halvah several years ago.
     
    THE HISTORY OF HALVA

  • Some scholars suggest that an early form of halva originated before the 12th century in Byzantium, the ancient Greek colony that later became Constantinople, and now Istanbul.
  • Evidence exists that the original was a somewhat gelatinous, grain-based dessert made with oil, flour and sugar.
  • The first written halvah recipe appeared in the early 13th century, and included seven variations.
  • In the same period, a cookbook from Moorish Spain describes rolling out a sheet of candy made of boiled sugar, honey, sesame oil and flour; sprinkling it with rose water, sugar and ground pistachios; and covering it with a second layer of candy before cutting it into triangles.
  • Halva spread across the Middle East to the Mediterranean, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In each locale, its name and ingredients changed slightly to include regional products.
  • Depending on local preferences, different recipes ground different seeds or nuts to make the halva. For example, Egyptians added pistachios, almonds or pine nuts. Indians flavored their halva with ghee, coconuts and dates.
  • Flour and oil disappeared from the recipe.
  • One recipe, made with sesame tahini, was favored by the Ottoman-ruled Romanians. Their Jewish population passed it on to Ashkenazi Jews throughout Europe. It was this sesame halva recipe that was brought to the U.S. in the early 20th century by Jewish immigrants.
  •  
    Here’s more halvah history.
     
     
    SEED & MILL’S MOST HEAVENLY HALVA

    Halva is made when tahini (ground sesame paste) is blended with sugar at a high temperature, and then hand-stirred.

    The company boasts 27 flavors, including two sugar-free varieties. They’re all available online, and the retail shop in Chelsea carries about ten them at a time. Some are seasonal; for example, expect cranberry in the fall and lavender in the summer.

    Wile many Seed + Mill flavors are vegan, about half of the flavors do include a bit of butter, which makes the halvah even lighter and melt-in-your-mouth. These are noted on the website.

    The non-butter flavors meet dietary preferences including dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo and vegan.

    If this seems like a lot of flavors, note that Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), the Ottoman Empire’s longest-reigning sultan, had a special kitchen built next to his palace that was dubbed the helvahane, house of halva. It produced some 30 varieties of the confection.

    At Seed + Mill, you’ll find traditional and modern flavors:

  • Cardamom Halva
  • Chia Halva
  • Chili Chocolate Halva
  • Chocolate & Orange Halva
  • Chocolate Pistachio Halva
  • Cinnamon Halva
  • Coconut Dark Chocolate Halva
  • Crunchy Peanut Butter Halva
  • Dates Halva
  • Dulce de Leche Halva
  • Ginger Halva
  • Goji Berry Halva
  • Lemongrass Halva
  • Marble Halva
  • Mixed Chocolate Halva (dark, milk and white chocolate)
  • Nutella & Hazelnuts Halva
  • Pistachio Halva
  • Rose Oil Halva
  • Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Halva
  • Sweet Pecans Halva
  • Vanilla Halva
  • Whiskey Halva
  • White Chocolate & Lemon Halva
  • White Chocolate Raspberry Halva
  • Yummy Flaky Halva (for garnish)
  •  
    Sugar-Free Flavors

  • Sugar Free Coffee Halva
  • Sugar Free Pistachio Halva
  •  
    Seed + Mill is certified by United Kosher Supervision. You can purchase a piece as small as a quarter-pound, or order an entire halva cake.

    While you’re at it, treat yourself to a jar of the company’s rich, silky tahini in herb, organic and organic whole seed; and two sesame spices, mixes of sesame with salt or za’atar.

     

    RECIPE: HALVA ICED COFFEE

    Seed + Mill adapted this recipe from Ben of Havoc In The Kitchen. He found it in a Russian food magazine, where it was originally made with peanut halva.

    The shake-like drink does nicely as a snack, a dessert or, with the whiskey, an after-dinner drink.

    Ingredients For 2-3 Servings

  • 2 cups strong brewed coffee, chilled
  • 1/3 cup peanut or sesame halva
  • 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • Optional: 2-3 tablespoons whiskey (or to taste)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the coffee, halva, ice cubes and ice cream in a blender. Process for 5 minutes or until smooth and foamy.

    2. STRAIN and discard the tiny pieces of halva and the coffee will be silky and smooth.

     

    Halva Iced Coffee

    [105] Serve halva iced coffee with alone or with halva dessert plate.

     
    3. RINSE the bowl of the blender, return the strained coffee and blend for another 2 minutes and to foam.
     
    ________________

    *The word is transliterated from Arabic, so either halva or halvah is correct.

    †Sesame seeds are one of the world’s healthiest foods. Here’s a nutrition profile.

      

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