Food and travel

Discovering a French confection in Vt.

French-born confectioner Didier Murat, maker of Vadeboncoeur nougat, pours hot ingredients into a mixer. French-born confectioner Didier Murat, maker of Vadeboncoeur nougat, pours hot ingredients into a mixer. (Corey Hendrickson for The Globe)
By Noreen Cargill
Globe Correspondent / July 22, 2009

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VERGENNES, Vt. - Didier Murat calls Vermont home now, but the 41-year-old confectioner grew up in the Rhone-Alpes region of France and the nougat of his childhood was handmade using egg whites, pistachios, almonds, and honey. The flat rectangular candy is white and pleasantly chewy, studded with the green and brown colors of the nuts.

Murat was a self-employed woodworker making nougat for himself and his friends. He called his candy Vadeboncoeur (French for “go with a good heart’’) and two people who especially liked it are chocolate makers here. Chris White and Floery Mahoney, owners of Daily Chocolate, asked Murat if he would make enough to sell in their store and invited him to use the shop’s kitchen to produce it.

“I don’t want to be presumptuous,’’ Murat says, about his “nougah,’’ as he pronounces it, “but I find it is great.’’ The candy maker should know. Murat’s childhood treat was nougat de Montelimar, a town known for its almonds and famous for the nougat made with them.

The Frenchman started his business two years ago. He makes about 30 pounds at once, usually on Sundays, when the chocolate shop is closed. “Even on an artisanal scale,’’ he says, “this is tiny.’’

In the back of the shop, Murat exchanges a black leather jacket for a white chef’s jacket and a pouchy hat with small black and white checks. With dark hair to his collar and sideburns trimmed close and to a point, Murat looks more like a rock star than a candy maker.

Murat came to this country 18 years ago. In 1996, he and his wife at the time moved to Vermont because they wanted to raise their then 3-year-old daughter, Annick, in a congenial place.

The Daily Chocolate kitchen is just below street level with one wall of exposed stone and brick and a dark tile floor. The space is pleasantly cool and quiet. Murat begins the nougat by toasting trays of almonds, and their aroma fills the open room. Then there’s the ping, ping, ping as he drops shelled pistachios into a bowl. He weeds out any nuts that don’t look right. “If there is a bad nut in two bars,’’ he says, “it’s quite a loss.’’

He buys organic nuts directly from California and Nevada growers. “Even with shipping it’s cheaper than buying from the distributor,’’ he says, “and you get to have a relationship with the farmer.’’

Other ingredients, also organic, are honey from Northwoods Apiaries in Westfield, Vt., and local eggs from the Fat Hen, a store across from the shop. With small batches, he only needs two dozen of the whites. The yolks sometimes end up used in the shop or at a nearby restaurant. “They sell my nougat,’’ he says.

Sugar and honey bubble together in a copper pot. Murat checks the temperature with a surface and an infrared thermometer. When the syrup is right, he adds it to the egg whites and mixes the two before tossing in the pistachios and almonds. Next, he pours the hot mixture into wooden trays lined with plastic wrap and edible wafer paper.

The candy maker’s family in France is surprised by this venture. “They are all scratching their heads,’’ he says. “There are so many established people already.’’ In this country, it’s different. “People with Italian, Spanish, and French heritage are happy to find nougat that is local and fresh.’’

When he began making the candy, the idea that it would become something viable was far from his mind. The name Vadeboncoeur was a whim. Now he wonders if anyone will remember it. “We’re a little stuck with it,’’ he says.

Wait till they have a taste.

Vadeboncoeur is available at Daily Chocolate, 7 Green St., Vergennes, Vt. 802-877-0087; Formaggio Kitchen, 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750; South End Formaggio, 268 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-350-6996; City Feed and Supply, 672 Centre St., 617-524-1700, and 66A Boylston St., 617-524-1657, both in Jamaica Plain; and Whole Foods Market, 340 River St., Cambridge, 617-876-6990.