Nougat is a delicious delicacy hailing from southern France – and originally, it’s thought, from Marseille. In the past, it was made from a syrupy blend of honey and almonds (or sometimes other nuts) and whipped into egg whites, before being left to dry out in the warm, Mediterranean sun. Nowadays, things are done a little differently, but its essence of sweet, unctuous honey and crunchy, caramelised nuts blended in a chewy meringue-like mixture remains the same.
A sweet reputation
Like all recipes with centuries of history, there are dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of variations. While it may have its origins in Marseille, it’s the town of Montélimar that is most synonymous with nougat. Legend has it that the story began in 1701. The Duc de Bourgogne and Duc de Berry were returning from their travels in Spain, when they decided to break up their journey with a stop here. In order to welcome them, the local people gave these distinguished visitors a gift – one quintal (around 43kg) of nougat. From there, the rest is history, and the town’s reputation spread across the world. If you’re lucky enough to visit this beautiful town, you’ll see a scattering of different artisanal shops and factories, many of which will allow you to watch the process.
Nougat made in Provence is characteristically softer and a little more delicate than that of its northern neighbour, Montélimar. It’s said to date back to the 18th century and, specifically, to the work of the agronomist Olivier de Serres. He had planted almond trees around the region, the product of which quickly became a feature of nougat. As well as almond, you might be able to detect the fragrant lavender honey – one of the many delicacies for which this region is famous. It’s a traditional feature of the Provençal Christmas table, which consists of 13 desserts – but it’s a welcome addition any time of year alongside a cup of coffee or lemon verbena tea.
Nougat comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, textures – and even colours. A lot of its shade comes from the nut used (think pink pralines and green pistachios), but the method, too, plays a role. White nougat is usually made with a mixture of honey beaten into egg white, which is then cooked and stirred for several hours. Once the volume has doubled, the sugar, and finally the nuts, are added.
If you’ve ever seen nougat which is darker, to the point of being almost black, this has been made at a much higher heat. This variety requires much more vigorous stirring but for a shorter amount of time, allowing the honey to form a caramel.
Nougat is usually eaten as a sweet bite following a meal, or to accompany coffee or tea a little like a biscuit. Nougat glacé, however, is a dessert in its own right, using the same flavour combinations. Originating in Provence, this delicious frozen form of nougat mixes meringue with whipped cream and honey, threaded with a sprinkling of fruit and nuts throughout. The nuts in this dessert have been caramelised, adding a welcome crunch.
If your mouth is truly watering at the thought of these sweets, you’re in the right place. At BonneBouffe, you can buy the best of French food online, including a range of high-quality, artisan nougat. What’s more, it comes with a long shelf life, so it’s perfect to have in when nothing but that unique taste of the Mediterranean will do!