I’m not that big into Valentine’s Day. I usually send cards to my nieces and nephew, and my husband Derek and I sometimes use it as a fun excuse to go out to dinner. But in a lot of ways, I could take it or leave it.
However, when it comes to making things for Valentine’s Day, I’m all in. The kitchen creative in me can’t deny my long-time love of heart-shaped confections. When I was a kid, I saw a magazine spread for a Valentine’s Day party. After a little begging, I convinced my mom that I could throw one, too—for one guest, a friend of mine who lived a few houses down. Ever since the heart-shaped sugar cookies I made that year, glazed not-so-neatly in various shades of pink icing, I was hooked and now can’t wait for Valentine’s Day to come around every year so I can get back into the kitchen to experiment.
When I first met my husband, I realized the true way to his heart (at any time of year) was with one of my dessert Achilles heels: candy. He’s a sucker for all kinds: chewy gummies, candy-coated goodies, chocolatey treats, the whole gamut. For the past few years, I’ve dreamt up something new for him each February (like these cherry caramel-filled truffles I made for him last year). This year, I opted for one of my own personal favorites, both to make and to eat: nougat.
Nougat is in one of the most delicious category of confections—the aerated, fluffy, whipped-up kind. My favorite method is pretty easy and doesn’t require very many ingredients. You start by cooking a sugar syrup to the proper temperature. Don’t freak out—it’s as easy as watching it boil until the right temperature is reached (in this case, 260°F). The syrup then gets poured into a mixer containing some whipping egg whites. The sugar and whites aerate together to make a mixture that’s somewhere between meringue and marshmallow.
It’s firm enough to slice after it sets, but soft enough to have this incredible melt-in-your-mouth effect. Best of all, the base recipe can easily be altered to create more flavors, so it’s fun to layer them to make different combos.
My base recipe is vanilla, but with a few quick additions, you can make chocolate, peanut butter, and strawberry, too. Layer them however you like: peanut butter and strawberry, chocolate and strawberry, vanilla and peanut butter—they’re all seriously so good, which is why they make perfect gifts for your valentine, or for your candy-making self. (You earned it!)
I could see other flavors working easily, too: coffee, spices, citrus rinds. Like so many sweet treats, the opportunities are endless. But in this case, they’re also particularly adorable, deliciously fluffy, and easy to achieve, to boot.
• 3 large (106 g) egg whites
• 1 1/4 cups (248 g) granulated sugar
• 1/3 cup (104 g) corn syrup
• 1/4 cup (56 g) water
• 1 vanilla bean, scraped
See the full recipe on Food52.
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