A Praline Primer
by Kate Heyhoe
Order a praline in Texas and you'll be served a sweet pecan-studded patty, made with either a caramel or brown sugar base. Order "praline" in France, and you can expect an entirely different treat. In fact, you might be served any number of candies and confections made with ingredients known as "pralin" or "praline paste."
According to the "Dictionary of Desserts" by Carol Bloom, a praline is "a confection made of caramelized whole almonds." Other sources describe it as a French hard candy (kind of like a nut brittle) made of caramelized sugar and nuts, usually almonds or hazelnuts.
When ground to a powder for use as a flavoring, filling or decoration, the candy becomes "pralin" or "pralin powder." Add a slight accent mark and a "praliné" refers to an entire category of confections flavored with praline, or with another ingredient: "praline paste." Similar to peanut butter in texture, praline paste is made by grinding caramelized almonds—or more often, hazelnuts—to form a thick paste. "Praliné" also refers to a Grènoise sponge cake made with layers of praline butter cream.
Clear as mud (or nut butter), no? Oui. Such is the world of French desserts, where chefs take their ingredients seriously and every detail, small as it may seem, is important.
While you might be tempted to make your own hazelnut praline paste, you're better off buying it from a specialty or baker's supply store. The paste should be smooth and creamy, and nut butters made with home equipment tend to be somewhat gritty. If your neighborhood gourmet retailer doesn't carry praline paste, you can order one-pound cans of either hazelnut praline paste or almond paste from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalog (800-827-6836; www.kingarthurflour.com).
Not sure how to use praline paste once you've found it? Pick up just about any dessert cookbook written by or for a professional restaurant chef for ideas. For instance, the lavishly photographed A Neoclassic View of Plated Desserts: Grand Finales (by Tish Boyle and Tim Moriarty; John Wiley and Sons, publishers) includes the following stunning twist on the traditional napoleon using praline paste, perfect for the holiday season or very special event.
Kate's Global Kitchen, December 2001
12/01/01 Holiday Food Gifts &
12/08/01 The Elemental Crème Anglaise
12/15/01 A Praline Primer
12/22/01 Nutmeg: A Gift from Grenada
12/29/01 Famous Last Words: The Lighter Side of Food
(includes Cozy New Year's Recipes)
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 2001 and modified November 2006.