Frozen Nougatine with Dark Chocolate & Pistachios
I love the concept of having a summer jam, don't you? I'm talking about becoming 100-times-on-repeat-can't stop-so-don't-try-to-make-me-OBSESSED with a particular song, like a personal anthem of sorts. This song will carry you all the way to September of a given year, turned up loud during long drives and workouts. And then long after you shelve it along with your flip flops, you can pull that song back out in February when you're about to jump off the roof with Seasonal Affective Disorder and BAM--you're right back to summery good times. In your mind, at least. Man, I love a good summer jam.
For me, past summer jams include such gems as 1992's "Tennessee" by Arrested Development and "Under the Bridge" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers--if I hear either of those now, I'm right back to scrunchies, Keds, and inexplicably large t-shirts half-tucked into Umbro shorts. Brilliant. That god-awful "Kiss From a Rose" by Seal? Takes me straight back to 1995, my amazing collection of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, and my first car and all the questionable decisions that go along with that milestone.
(Speaking of questionable decisions while having your first car, I blame the video for 1995's other summer jam, "Crazy" by Aerosmith. You can't even tell me that you didn't want to be in that video, so were you the Alicia Silverstone or the Liv Tyler whilst cruising with your BFF that summer? Be real.)
Fast forward to 2013, and I'm still a big believer in the summer jam. I mean, I no longer drive a 1989 Chevy Corsica with red interior, and I have two carseats in my backseat now, but that is neither here nor there. I require a good summer jam to help mark the passage of time. This year, I had no sooner declared Daft Punk and Pharrell's catchy "Get Lucky" as my summer jam, when Little C ruined the whole thing. Turns out this jam is so catchy that a 4 1/2 year can pick up the racy lyrics and sing them loudly at Target when you least expect it, causing raised eyebrows all over the Kitchen and Bath section. Kids ruin EVERYTHING, I'm telling you.
So while I now have to enjoy my 2013 summer jam only when I'm alone or wearing headphones (ppllthththth...), I have softened the blow by discovering my summer jam in dessert form, and it's a doozy. It's a frozen nougatine. Have you ever? Because you really should. Since we're talking a bit about scenes from past lives today, does anyone remember Viennetta? I think you'll have to go back to the 80s for that one (at least in America; it seems countries much smarter than us still have it in stores, please ship me one in dry ice if you are so blessed, thanks), but I still remember begging for it from the freezer at the grocery store after seeing the seductive TV commercials for it. The one time my wish was granted, it basically made my whole childhood. Cool, creamy, aerated softened ice cream, with whisper-thin layers of crisp chocolate throughout that gently snapped between the teeth. Dang!
And that's the same sort of experience you get with frozen nougatine, except it isn't really ice cream at all--it's actually even simpler, and no ice cream maker is required to reach this creamy, dreamy nirvana. All it is is whipped cream and whipped meringue with tasty bits folded in. The whole things gets dreamily piled into a loaf pan (you can't NOT sneak spoonfuls of the unfrozen batter) and frozen for as long as you can stand it. You could serve it by scooping it, but really it's meant to be sliced so you can admire the smattering of tasty bits within.
If you've ever had a semifreddo, it's a whole lot like that, except there's only egg whites in this guy, no yolks. Just a whole lot of fabulous happening here. I opted to harken back to the days of Viennetta, and instead of just folding in chopped chocolate, I melted some good bittersweet, spread it out in the thinnest layer on a sheet of of parchment, chilled it until firm, and gently crushed it into shards. The resulting "chips" sort of shatter and crunch as you work your way through the creamy clouds, hitting a salted pistachio here and there...oh, snap. Talk about getting lucky. I don't even need music when I've got this stuff. Seriously.
As if the amazing melting sweetness and out of this world cloudlike texture wasn't enough, I'd say my favorite thing about frozen nougatine has to be the endlessly riffability factor. Dark chocolate and pistachios is only the beginning. You really could add just about any little sweet bit, nut, or chopped fruit that your heart desires. Just your classic case of the awesome getting awesomer.
Frozen Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Nougatine
Now, you can go one of two ways in making the meringue for this recipe, depending on how you feel about using totally raw eggs in something; You'll find instructions for making this recipe with both French (uncooked) and Italian (cooked) meringues in the method below. French meringue is quicker, as the sugar just goes right into the whipping whites, while Italian meringue calls for boiling a sugar syrup, and you'll need a candy thermometer for it. I've used both methods and they both turn out lovely, however, do I think that Italian meringue does give a slightly more stable, less prone to quick-melting finished product, and it has a bit more loft (the nougatine in the photos here was made with Italian meringue). In either case, you'll need to make time for a good long freeze for this recipe--you could get by with overnight, but 24 hours is ideal. The wait is worth it, I promise.
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), chopped 4 egg whites 1/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons water 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract 3/4 cup roasted salted pistachios, coarsely chopped
Start by making the chocolate shards: Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl in the microwave with 30-second bursts of high power, stirring after each interval until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet, using a spatula to smooth the chocolate into a very thin layer. Chill until firm 10 minutes in the freezer, 20 in the fridge).
To make the meringue, place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer (if using a hand mixer and the Italian meringue method, be sure to use a heatproof bowl).
For a French (uncooked) meringue: Whip the whites to soft peaks on medium speed. Raise the speed to medium-high while you slowly rain in the sugar, whipping the whites to stiff, glossy peaks.
For an Italian (cooked) meringue: Whip the whites to stiff peaks on medium-high speed. Turn off the mixer. Put the sugar into a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water over low heat. Stir very gently until the liquid is almost clear, letting you know the sugar is dissolved (starting on low heat without getting sugar crystals on the sides of the pot will keep the syrup from crystallizing on you). Then crank the heat up to medium-high, clip on a candy thermometer, and boil the sugar syrup to 260°F (do not stir once the syrup is boiling). Immediately pull the pan from the heat. Turn the mixer back onto medium speed. Slowly drizzle the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites, aiming for the space between the beater and the bowl. When all the syrup has been added, whip on high speed until the whites are firm and glossy, and the bowl is cool to the touch, 5 to 7 minutes.
Pour the cream into a medium bowl, adding the vanilla bean paste or extract. Whip the cream to stiff peaks (I use a stand mixer for the whites, and my handheld electric mixer to whip the cream--if you use a handheld mixer for both, there's no need to wash the beaters as long as you whip the whites first). Fold about a third of the egg whites into the whipped cream. Scrape the whipped cream mixture into the bowl with the whites, and fold gently until well-blended, being careful not to deflate the mixture.
Remove the chocolate sheet from the fridge or freezer. Fold the parchment paper up around the chocolate and use your hand to gently break it into shards--not too small, because they'll break up a little more as you fold them into the nougatine and you want nice big pieces in the finished product. Fold the chocolate and the pistachios into the nougatine. Scrape the whole thing into the lined loaf pan, and gently smooth the top. Pull the sides of the plastic wrap up and over the top of the pan, making sure the plastic wrap rests right on top of the surface of the nougatine. For extra coverage, cover the pan with another sheet of plastic wrap. Freeze until firm, at least overnight, preferably 24 hours. Use the plastic wrap to remove the slab of nougatine to a cutting board and slice to serve.