It comes as no surprise the South loves their sugar and no greater surprise they have a rich tradition of candy-making. The scene was early set for the craft first by sugarcane-carrying Spaniards who left a legacy and brought an industry and then again by French settlers, skilled in the art of candy-craft. The abundance of pecans lent a natural variation to the repertoire and in short order, pralines emerged as a regionally identifiable, Southern treat.
Way up here in the northwest we grow hazelnuts and walnuts and carry nay a tradition of pralines (unless you count that much-loved version on a cone). No matter - pralines can be made with any variation of nut and were originally fancied in the form of individual kernels, simply coated in cane sugar.
The simplicity of praline-making varies, but by most accounts, the preparation is a snap. My favorite derivation of the recipe involves processing it into a fine powder, which I fiendishly refer to as candy crack. Once you try it, you'll consider any which way to use it; atop chocolate mousse, sprinkled onto ice cream, whipped into buttercream, stirred into caramel, dusted on cakes or to candy bacon! There really are no boundaries here.
In her book, The Cake Bible, Rose Beranbaum offers a stunningly simple recipe. It's a perfect starting place for myriad variations and regional applications. While I've adjusted her recipe ever so slightly, it remains quite true to form.
Hazelnut Praline Powder
1 cup roasted hazelnuts (or any other roasted nut)
2/3 cups cane sugar
1/4 cup water
Lightly oil one baking sheet, and set aside. Conversely, you can use a non-stick baking sheet, un-greased.
In a medium heavy saucepan on medium heat, add the sugar and water, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved.
Increase the heat to medium-high and allow to boil, undisturbed (but not unattended), until the sugar begins to caramelize. If you have a candy thermometer, you're aiming for 370°. A good indicator is the smell of burnt sugar.
Once 370° is reached, immediately turn off the heat, add the roasted hazelnuts to the saucepan, stirring quickly to combine and pour the entire mixture onto the greased baking sheet.
Once hardened (about 20 minutes), break into smaller pieces and grind in your food processor to a fine powder consistency.
Store in sealed jars in the freezer.
Ways to use Praline Powder:
- Sprinkled atop baked bacon about 3/4 into the cooking process. The praline powder will candy the bacon, making it irresistibly salty-fatty-sweet.
- Simply as a topping for ice cream!
- Dusted on a rich chocolate truffle torte.
- Whipped into buttercream, then spread in between layers and atop a basic chocolate cake.
- Added to homemade ice cream at the soft serve stage.