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13 December 2014

Christmas can be an expensive time of year, especially if you have a big family (blood or urban) to buy for. Every year I put off the Christmas shop, and every year I seem to find myself hurling from shop to shop on Christmas Eve, battling past the world and his dog and whoring out my poor credit card as if money is going out of fashion.

This year, I had a stern word with myself. Lucy, you are 23 now and need to start behaving like the serene and graceful lady you aspire to be. With a bit of forward planning, it's so easy to make Christmas presents that will show your nearest and dearest just how much you love them.

Having made my own hot chocolate sticks last year, I needed something new and delicious to rustle up. Nougat is beautifully Christmassy, economical to make and keeps well for several weeks - which comes in handy in the post-Christmas glut.

So when Daelmans Stroopwafels got in touch asking me to share my favourite Christmas coffee-time treat, I couldn't think of a better recipe to post. Nougat should be soft, chewy, nutty and fruity, and that's exactly what this is.

While we're on the subject - Stroopwafels are possibly the best biscuits I have ever eaten - and I am no novice when it comes to biscuit consumption. Gone are the days of the dunker. Rest one of these little beauties atop your steaming cup of coffee (virgin or Irish, it is Christmas after all), give the heat of your drink a few minutes to soften the gooey caramel within, and prepare to be totally won over. The tins are kind of my favourite thing ever, too. If anyone is looking for something to buy me for Christmas... consider that a hint. 
I digress. For my nougat, I used hazelnuts and cranberries, but you can use whatever fillings you like. This recipe is really quite simple, but does require a little bit of planning and multi-tasking. You'll also need a sugar thermometer - they're really inexpensive and so useful, so I'd recommend investing if you're not using one already.

I'd love to hear what you're baking this Christmas - as always, you can contact me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
50g cornflour
50g icing sugar
210g caster sugar
250g honey
400ml water
2 egg whites
100g hazelnuts
100g dried cranberries

Begin by mixing the cornflour and icing sugar together in a small bowl. Next, line an 8" baking dish with parchment, then dust with half of the icing sugar mixture. Set the rest aside. 

Now is the time for forward planning - don't be tempted to skip this stage. Measure the caster sugar and water into a large saucepan and place on your most powerful hob. Measure the honey into a small saucepan, and place on a second hob. Break the egg whites into the bowl of a free-standing mixer. 

Heat the caster sugar mix on a high heat, using the sugar thermometer to monitor the temperature. Once it reaches 118C, turn the heat down and move the thermometer to the honey saucepan. Bring the honey to the boil, and start beating the egg whites until the form still peaks. Keep your eye on the honey as it heats very quickly. Once it reaches 130C, remove from the heat and steadily pour into the egg whites with the mixer beating. Reduce the speed, and keep it going.

Move the thermometer back into the sugar mixture, which should have been gently bubbling while you dealt with the honey. Raise the heat to high, and when the mixture reaches 150C, add it to the egg mixture in a steady stream. Beat on high for 5 minutes, until the mixture is pale, thick and glossy.

Use a metal spoon to mix in the nuts and cranberries, then scrape the mixture into the prepared tin. Press it into an even layer (it will be sticky!) then top with the remaining icing sugar mixture. Transfer to the fridge to firm up over night.

Using a heated knife, slice the nougat into individual pieces. If you're giving the nougat as a gift, wrap the pieces with baking parchment, and fasten with string. Package up in a box, fasten with ribbon, and prepare your modest expression when everyone is raving about them.

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