Dear Rennie,


Every year, Mabel Bywater hosts this insufferable garden party to mark the beginning of spring. She insists on shipping a pair of ‘period dress appropriate’ bloomers along with each invitation, and this year, between the advanced honey badger threat, and my best dress being one that’s cut close to the knee, I just don’t see the sense in wearing them. I’m going with pants.


But, what should I bring for a covered dish? I can only make so many decisions surrounding this thing. Your advice would be most appreciated.


Sincerely Yours,
Knees Not Out Today Thanks in Yonkers


Darling K.N.O.T.T.Y.,

I will soon, dearest Madam, address the tantalizing subject of your garments, and whether or not they are truly appropriate for the event you are attending, but, first and foremost, let me lend my quill to this notion of the ‘covered dish’. A cover? How novel! Robert, do you place covers upon the dishes that we take to Mme. Gribaud’s for her yearly Lambs Amongst the Dew festival? (the famous ‘Agneaux parmi la rosée‘–I assume you’ve heard of it. Or are perhaps still missing pantaloons as a result of it, ma belle! I know your secretly saucy ways). Yes? I never knew! Covers!

Where were we? Ah, dishes. Spring is a time of blossom, of deep and sudden rents in the sweet furrows of the earth that exhale a moist and dark perfume..as such one might be led down the garden path towards the lingering succubus of winter’s plaisirs de cacao but no! Go not forward into the beguiling embrace! (Robert, I am fevered, bring me a whisky! Haste, man!)

As maidens shed their gossamer shifts along the banks of many a river in May, so too, must the clever attendee of the garden soiree be prepared to bring forth a display of such delicate whiteness that no guest may resist its perfumed charms. The very dance of the bees themselves renders unto us this sweetmeat, and we can do no less than to celebrate their winged art in consuming it. I speak, Madam, of nougat.

Some say this pleasure is for the time of winter snows, and yea, I say Non! To those who would suggest it. The delicacy of the pebbled nuts, the honeyed sweetness that delights the tooth, even the stiffening of the egg whites at the outset of its making–these peaks bespeak of Spring, as much as the shocking display of your legs shall at your garden célébration. (Robert has illustrated your quaint notion of ‘pants’ here upon this napkin, and I blush to see it, Madam, but champion your outrageousness, ever so!)

It is in this spirit of rising sap that I leave you with my cook’s recipe for nougat, and pray that, should you not find yourself in need of the sous-vêtementsyour hostess shall send you, that you might offer them up to myself instead, that I might have a memory of this tender exchange.


Yours, as ever,
G. de la R.


Nougat


Two 9-inch by 13-inch sheets rice or wafer paper (pain azyme)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups honey
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups water
6 egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon brandy
2 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds, toasted
1/3 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preparation:


Line a 9-inch by 13-inch by 1-inch pan with the wafer paper and set it aside.


In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar, honey, corn syrup, and water, and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Begin to beat the egg whites while the sugar mixture continues cooking, untouched. Beat the egg whites on high until stiff, wet peaks form.


Once the sugar syrup reaches 300F on a candy thermometer, pour it very slowly and steadily into the egg whites, whisking them the entire time. Add the lemon zest and continue whisking the hot nougat mixture for 8 to 12 minutes, until it cools slightly and thickens.


Stir the vanilla, brandy, almonds, pistachios, and salt into the nougat and quickly spread it onto the prepared pan. Gently place the second piece of wafer paper on top of the nougat and evenly press it into the nougat so that no air bubbles remain.


Cover the nougat in an airtight container or plastic wrap and allow it to set for 3 to 5 days before cutting and wrapping individual pieces.


This nougat blanc recipe makes approximately 10 dozen 1-inch candies.