Introduction: Pumpkin Hazelnut and Cinnamon Caramel Candy Bars

Because of the time of year, I've been thinking recently about recipes involving pumpkin. Eventually I decided to make a candy bar similar to a Snickers, but more Fall/pumpkin oriented. These bars would have a pumpkin flavored nougat with hazelnuts and toasted pumpkin seeds in it. This is topped by a caramel that's flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove to mimic some of the flavors of pumpkin pie. The whole thing is covered in semi-sweet chocolate.

CAUTION: This recipe includes several steps that involve boiling hot sugar mixtures. Be extremely careful with these mixtures as they can cause serious burns if they come in contact with your skin.

Step 1: Ingredients

There are three main sections to this recipe: nougat, caramel, and chocolate coating.

The ingredients you'll need for the nougat are:
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts (see next step)
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (see next step)
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp salt
2 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter
about 5oz pumpkin puree
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove

The caramel will require:
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 cups sugar
a pinch of baking soda
1/4 cup butter
6 oz evaporated milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove

The chocolate coating will require (roughly):
2 12oz bags of semi-sweet or milk-chocolate chips.

Step 2: Tools

6x10 or 8x10 cake pan
Parchment paper
Electric mixer
Large saucepan
Candy thermometer
Baking sheet for toasting the hazelnuts
Frying pan or similar to toast the pumpkin seeds in
Rubber/silicone spatula

Large saucepan
Candy thermometer
Rubber/silicone spatula or metal spoon

Large saucepan
Metal/glass bowl
Rubber/silicone spatula or similar

Step 3: Toasting

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread your cup of hazelnuts evenly on a baking tray and put them in the oven for 10-15 minutes. They should be just starting to brown a bit. Remove them from the oven, and wrap them in a kitchen towel for 1-2 minutes. While they're still in the towel, mix and rub the nuts around. This will help to remove a lot of the skins. At this point you can put them in a plastic bag and pound them a bit with something heavy, or put them in a food processor and pulse a few times to get a coarse chop.

For the pumpkin seeds, I recommend using hulled seeds (without the shell). If you are, just heat a pan over medium-low heat, then add the pumpkin seeds. Stir them often so that they don't burn. You can tell they're ready when some of the seeds start to pop and they'll be turning a nice toasted brown color. For us this took about 10-15 minutes.

Mix the pumpkin seeds and coarsely chopped hazelnuts in a small bowl and set aside.

Step 4: Nougat, Part 1

My base nougat recipe is taken from a cookbook (A Baker's Field Guide to Holiday Candy and Confections) and modified to include the pumpkin.

Line the bottom of a 6x10 or 8x10 cake pan with parchment paper.

Mix together the sugar, corn syrup, honey, water, salt, and 1.5 tablespoons of pumpkin puree in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, mixing constantly until the sugar is dissolved, then don't mix after that. If you get sugar crystals forming on the side of the pot (and you probably will) wash down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush. Alternatively, after you're done stirring you can put a lid on the pot. This will allow condensation from the evaporating water to run down the sides of the pot and dissolve the sugar.

While that mixture is boiling, beat your egg whites in an electric mixer on medium until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on high until soft peaks form.

Step 5: Nougat, Part 2

When the sugar mixture has reached 260 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer, remove from the heat and carefully pour about 1/4 of the mixture into the egg whites, while the mixer is running. Put the sugar mixture back on the heat.

Beat egg whites and sugar mixture on high until it appears thick and glossy.

When the rest of the sugar mixture reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit, carefully pour it into the meringue mixture with the mixer running. Beat on high for about 5 minutes. The mixture should be pretty stiff.

Step 6: Nougat, Part 3

Add the butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and remainder of the pumpkin puree to the meringue mixture and continue beating on high until it's fully incorporated.

At this point, slowly fold in the nut/seed mixture by hand with a spatula.

As soon as the nuts/seeds are incorporated, pour and scrape the mixture into your prepared pan.

If necessary, level out the mixture with the spatula, or damp fingers.

At this point, the base recipe recommend putting another piece of parchment paper on top of the mixture, and weighing it down with another pan filled with cans or something. I suspect this is to press out some of the air in the mixture and to get a more compact nougat. Unfortunately, because of a last minute change of pans, we didn't have anything sized properly to press down evenly on the nougat, so we left it unpressed. (this may have contributed to our later nougat problems)

The recipe says to allow the nougat to cool for about 3 hours. Unfortunately after 3 hours our nougat was still sticky and not completely firm. I suspect this is due to the added moisture present in the pumpkin. Ideally I should have adjusted the remaining moisture in the recipe down somewhat to account for this. Based on looking at a few other nougat recipes online, we decided to stick the nougat in the refrigerator for about 2 hours so that it was firm enough for cutting.

Unfortunately as it comes to room temperature it starts to lose firmness again and spread out on the pan. So in terms of nougat consistency, the recipe definitely needs to be adjusted and retried. However, I continued so that I could test the final product for taste appeal.

Step 7: Caramel

Preparing the caramel is fairly straightforward, but does take awhile.

In a large saucepan combine the corn syrup, sugar, and water. Stir to combine. Heat over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

When the mixture comes to a boil, add the baking soda and stir to dissolve. Wash down the sides of the pot with a damp pastry brush if there are sugar crystals forming. Insert a candy thermometer into the mixture. Add the butter and stir until it's completely incorporated.

Slowly add the evaporated milk, while stirring and trying to keep the mixture at a boil. Add in the spices as well. From this point on you will have to continuously stir the mixture so that the milk doesn't scorch. Cook the mixture until the firm ball stage (around 245 degrees Fahrenheit).

Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool down to around 210-215 degrees. At this point there are some options for how to get the caramel onto the nougat. We just used a large metal spoon and spooned caramel onto each piece of nougat. Alternatively, if your nougat is firm enough, you could just dip nougat pieces into the caramel.

This caramel recipe needs some adjustments (mostly to cooking temp). The current recipe sets up a bit too hard to work well in a candy bar type confection.

Step 8: Chocolate

The easiest way to melt the chocolate is likely to use the double boiler method. Put an inch or so of water in a large saucepan. Heat this water to boiling. Put your chocolate in a metal or glass bowl that can sit on top of the saucepan (without touching the water). Stir the chocolate around as it melts until it's uniform.

Ideally you would temperthechocolate as well. This would give your chocolate a nicer shine and snap when broken and would allow it to stand up to room temperatures longer. In this case, I was impatient, and since the nougat was somewhat shapeless, I was less concerned about appearance than taste testing.

After the chocolate is melted, coat the nougat/caramel pieces completely. This can be done by just dropping them in the melting chocolate and then lifting them out onto a baking sheet, or if the nougat is firm enough they could be carefully dipped on one side, allow that chocolate to set, then dip the other side, or you can just pour melted chocolate over the pieces on a pan.

We elected to drop the pieces into the chocolate, cover, and scoop them out with two forks.

Step 9: Final Product

Here is the final product. Because of our loose nougat, these ended up much larger than I was planning for initially. Consequently it makes more sense to cut these up into pieces to serve.

The taste of these is very good. The pumpkin is not overpowering, and blends nicely with the caramel and chocolate. The texture was not great, because of the lack of firmness in the nougat.

I'm definitely going to tweak this recipe and try again to get a more stable nougat, which will lead to a nice small bar confection.

As a tasty side-effect, we had too much caramel and chocolate, so we have a slab chocolate-covered caramel as well as the pumpkin-nougat blobs.

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