Praline is a form of confection containing at a minimum nuts and sugar; cream is a common third ingredient.
There are two main types:
- French pralines, a firm combination of almonds and caramelised sugar.
- American pralines, a softer, creamier combination of syrup and pecans, hazelnuts or almonds with milk or cream, resembling fudge.
Belgian pralines consist of a chocolate shell with a softer, sometimes liquid, filling, traditionally made of different combinations of hazelnut, almonds, sugar, syrup and often milk-based pastes. These high-fat, low-melting point chocolates are at the luxury end of Belgian chocolate and represent an important product of many Belgian chocolatiers.
A praline cookie is a chocolate biscuit containing ground nuts. Praline is usually used as a filling in chocolates or other sweets.
European nut pralines
Unverifiable legend has it that praline was originally inspired in France by the cook of Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1598–1675), with the word praline deriving from the name Praslin. Early pralines were whole almonds individually coated in caramelised sugar, as opposed to dark nougat, where a sheet of caramelised sugar covers many nuts. Although the New World had been discovered and settled by this time, chocolate-producing cocoa (native to the New World) was originally not optionally associated with the term. The European chefs used local nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts.
The powder made by grinding up such caramel-coated nuts is called pralin, and is an ingredient in many cakes, pastries, and ice creams. After this powder has been mixed with chocolate, it becomes praliné in French, which gave birth to what is known in French as chocolat praliné. The word praliné is used colloquially in France and Switzerland to refer to these, known simply as “chocolates” in English, i.e. various centres coated with chocolate. In mainland Europe, the word praline is often used to mean either this nut powder or the chocolate paste made from it, widely used to fill chocolates, hence its use (by synecdoche) in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom to refer to filled chocolates in general. In the United Kingdom, the term can refer either to praline (the filling for chocolates) or, less commonly, to the original whole-nut pralines.
Belgian soft-centre pralines
Pralines from Belgium are also known as “(soft-centre) Belgian chocolates”, “Belgian chocolate fondants” and the somewhat vague “chocolate bonbons” in English-speaking countries — cases of chocolate (if from Belgium usually a quality, branded lower-melting point Belgian chocolate) filled with a soft centre. They were first introduced by Jean Neuhaus II, a Belgian chocolatier, in 1912.
There have always been many types and shapes: nearly always containing a chocolate shell with a softer filling. Confusion can arise over the use of the word praline in Belgium as it may refer to filled chocolates in general known as pralines and it may also refer to a traditional praline filling common in Europe (caramelised hazelnuts (noisettes) or almonds (amandes) ground into a paste, sometimes with whey powder, condensed milk or cream) described as praliné. Belgian chocolates (pralines) are not limited to the traditional praliné filling and often include nuts, marzipan, salted caramel, coffee, a spirit, cream liqueur, cherry or a chocolate blend that contrasts with the outer shell. They are often sold in stylised boxes in the form of a gift box. The largest manufacturers are Neuhaus, Godiva, Leonidas, and Guylian.
American cream-based pralines
French settlers brought the recipe to Louisiana, where both sugar cane and pecan trees were plentiful. During the 19th century, New Orleans chefs substituted pecans for almonds, added cream to thicken the confection, and thus created what became known throughout the American South as the praline.
Pralines have a creamy consistency, similar to fudge. It is usually made by combining sugar (often brown), butter, and cream or buttermilk in a pot on medium-high heat, and stirring constantly, until most of the water has evaporated and it has reached a thick texture with a brown colour. Then it is usually dropped by spoonfuls onto wax paper or a sheet of aluminum foil greased with butter, and left to cool.
‘Pralines and cream’ is a common ice cream flavour in the United States and Canada.
Pecan Pralines Recipe
- 2 cups pecan halves and pieces
- 3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 cup thickened cream
- ¼ cup butter
- 1½ tablespoons glucose syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- wax paper
- Preheat oven to 175°C. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool completely (about 15 minutes).
- Meanwhile, bring brown sugar and next 3 ingredients to a boil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 113°C (236°F) (soft ball stage). Remove sugar mixture from heat.
- Let sugar mixture stand until candy thermometer reaches 65°C (150°) (20 to 25 minutes). Stir in vanilla and pecans using a wooden spoon; stir constantly 1 to 2 minutes or just until mixture begins to lose its gloss. Quickly drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto wax paper; let stand until firm (10 to 15 minutes).
Café au Lait Pecan Pralines - Add 1½ tablespoons instant coffee granules with brown sugar in Step 2.
Bourbon-Pecan Pralines - Add ¼ cup bourbon with brown sugar in Step 2.