The French Have Candy To Represent Evil

Unprofessional Cookery

When I started out on this project, I had no desire to stumble through the history of european candymaking.  But, like most of my cooking experiments, it’s all about modifying on the fly so that you won’t have to.  It just happened to be that this project turned out to be more than a creative save to my investment,as  it was chock-a-block with history!

So as it went down, I had done some reading on the hot grain du jour for 2012: quinoa.  No longer delegated to the Birkenstock and communal living crowd, these tiny little orbs have been slowly sprouting on menus and discussions all over the place.  (I, being a native of the epicenter of posthippie culture known as Washington, was nonplussed.  Much like adzuki beans, so 1989.)  When going down the rabbit hole of quinoa related commentary, I came across what was to be my albatross.  Popped quinoa. (Bastards!)

“Of course!” I thought.  “I could totally do this!  In fact, I could pop all kinds of grains and then make them into a variety of things!”  Visions of sweet and salty popped quinoa, nutritional yeast dusted quinoa, quinoa based multigrain savory granola danced through my head.  Before I knew what had come over me, I had marched down to the local health food store and bought all the grains my little heart desired from the big bulk bins.  (Stop laughing.  I know I’m a walking cliché.)

That night I set out to make my culinary masterpiece.  Everything was set out just so, my pan, my grains, a wooden spoon.  I just knew (I knew!) I could say “haute cuisine” that Joel Robouchon and Thomas Keller would be sneakily glancing at my blog, gleaning my recipes for grainy perfection.  I turned on the stove, as if a maestro queueing up the orchestra.

Well guess what.  Popped quinoa isn’t very exciting and it burns almost as soon as it hits the pan if the heat is up too high.  Batches of burnt quinoa stench later, I decided to salvage everything else that I had yet to incinerate by making a honey seed crunch candy (rather than the delicate granola I had envisioned).  Fine.

Revelation number two: What I made was a spin on traditional Christmas Provençal candy called Nougat Noir.  The thirteen desserts are part of a regional French Christmas dinner called le gros souper (“the big supper”) and this just happens to be one of them.  The variety of the sweets may change by familial or local tradition, but the number of desserts are always 13 in order to represent Christ and the 12 apostles.  Nougat, if served, is oftentimes presented in the light and dark varieties as a representation of good and evil.  The spread is left out for three days from Christmas Eve until December 27 for everyone’s noshing pleasure.

The more you know.

Thus, it is my pleasure to present to you the hippy dippy version of Nougat Noir.  Welcome to the darkside.

Multigrain Nougat Noir

Ingredients:

-12 ounces honey (any variety)

-1 cup raw sunflower kernels

-1/4 cup black quinoa

-1/4 cup red quinoa

-1/4 cup white quinoa

-1/4 cup millet

-1/4 cup sesame seeds

-1 three finger pinch of salt

Optional: Vanilla, orange water, cinnamon, black pepper, ground ginger

How to:

1.  When in doubt, rinse it out.  If your quinoa has not been prerinsed to remove the bitterness, start by rinsing and allowing your grains to dry on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  This should be done ahead of time.

2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  At this point, if desired, decide on your flavorings.  You may try 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon orange water or 1 teaspoon each cinnamon and ground ginger with a hearty crack of black pepper. (I did not add any flavoring to my batch.)  Set these items near your work area by the stove.

3.Prepare your work area.  Have all the ingredients near the stove as well as a wooden spoon, a metal spoon, an empty bowl,  a bowl of cold water, side towels, a heat resistant spatula and (perhaps) something to sit on.  Then in a heavy bottomed saucepot, add the honey and turn the heat on medium low. Remove any scum that you see as it heats using the metal spoon and the empty bowl as a repository.  Allow the honey to slowly come to a boil.

4. When the honey starts to boil, add all the grains, the sunflower kernels and the salt.

5. Using a wooden spoon, stir the pot constantly.  (Seriously, do NOT leave the pot as the candy will scorch almost instantaneously.)  You will need to stir everything for 20-30 minutes at least, until you see the color deepen to a rich caramel color.  If need be, adjust the heat to low in order to prevent burning.

6. Drip a test drip into the bowl of cold water.  If the candy forms a small hard ball, it is ready to spread.  If not, keep stirring and test it in the water bath until a small ball forms. Cut the heat.  If using flavorings, when the candy is ready, now is the time to stir those in.

7. Using your side towels, transfer the pot over to your cookie sheet and scoop out the ingredients using the heat resistant spatula.  Spread everything very thin, about 1/4 inch thick.

8. Allow the mixture to cool for a few hours or overnight.  When it is room temperature, break the candy into small pieces.  It may also be pulverized and used as a dessert topping as well!

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