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It’s National Praline Day. It’s also Special Guest Star/Chef’s Day on the blog!!… oohhh ah, yes that’s right, I brought in a ringer! With that bit of titillation, I’m going to start with the former… and leave you in suspense for a bit!
Pralines are basically a syrup and nut confection, which have an interesting history and regionalism. As originally inspired in France at the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte by the cook of the 17th-century sugar industrialist Marshal du Plessis-Praslin early pralines were whole almonds individually coated in caramelized sugar (as opposed to a sheet of caramelized sugar covering many nuts). French settlers brought this 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. Southern i.e. american pralines (say “PRAW-leens” in your head!) take on quite a few shapes and sizes and are generally either creamy or chewy and have the consistency of fudge, with a gritty texture to coming from the sugar.
Back in Europe, the powder made by grinding up such sugar-coated nuts is called pralin, and is an ingredient in many cakes, pastries, and ice creams. When this powder is mixed with chocolate it becomes praliné in French, which gave birth to what is known in French as praline belge or “Belgian chocolates”. Therefore, if you ask for a praline in France, Belgium, Germany etc, you are most likely to get a filled chocolate! In the United Kingdom, the term can refer either to praline (the filling for chocolates) or, less commonly, to the original whole-nut pralines.
Thus, we’ve got a lot of latitude to play with today for National Praline Day. And I left the decision making to two of my favourite Victoria chefs! If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve heard me enthuse about the food at Devour, this tiny bistro near my office. I’ve gotten to know Jena and Alison, the chefs and co-owners, via my many many visits. We were talking about the blog one day, and much to my delight, they offered to make something for it! So today I’m sharing with your pralines, Devour style.
Alison said she stared with a recipe from epicurious [is it strange that it makes me feel better that the professional chefs occasionally just google things too?!?]. Of course, in true 365food style, there are a few modifications…
Pralines a la Devour!
Cocoa nib and Chili Praline
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon (packed) golden brown sugar
- chilli flakes (!!) [Allison didn't tell me how much to add - I think this may be a matter of taste/how hot your chillies are!]
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1/4 cup cocoa nibs
- 1/4 cup cashews, chopped
[Editorial Note: Allison said next time that she may try sprinkling the pralines with some maple smoked salt which she picked up at Defending Our Backyard, which I agree would be great - I like sweet and savoury together. So you may want to add that to your ingredient list!]
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Stir in cocoa nibs and chopped cashews.
Drop mixture by tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake until mixture spreads and is deep golden brown, about 18 minutes [though Allison reports she had to cook hers longer, to get a nice clear candy look to it]. The mixture will flow together into 1 piece on baking sheet!
Remove from oven; cool completely on sheet. Break praline into irregular pieces or shards.
The result was a thin crunchy clear candy studded with chocolate and nuts. It starts sweet, then you taste the nuts, and just when you think the bite is over there is a great gently kick of heat from the chilli peppers. Brilliant!
…but you don’t have to take my word for it. A whole batch of these pralines were made yesterday, and are being served today with vanilla icecream, at Devour. Stop on in and give this important holiday your full attention! You can also see what else the ladies are cooking today here (the menu is usually posted about 11 am, so be patient!). If indulging today is too last minute, I will also let you know that Devour is going to be open late all next week (8am – 8pm) to serve those of you out enjoying Jazzfest. Stop in for their mussels, you won’t be disappointed… better have some cheese too…
With big thanks to Alison and Jena,