The Sweet Life in New Orleans: All About the Praline; All About the Bed and Breakfast

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It is believed that the inspiration for the Praline originated in France at the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte. There, Chef Lassagne, employed by the17th-century sugar industrialist Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1598–1675) prepared a confection with whole almonds individually coated in light caramelized sugar. Traditional candies of the day were made from dark nougat which covered many nuts to form a sheet which was then cut into squares.

The actual creation of the candy is steeped in mystery.  Did lightening strike the chef when he witnessed children either scavenging for restaurant scraps or candying found almonds into perfection?  Or was the creation a complete accident by a clumsy kitchen helper?  Or were the treats tiny confections created for a French “Casanova” who wanted something sweet for the ladies? (See the History of Pralines for more details.)

No matter the start, because the French loved this treat so much that they brought it along with them when they traveled to the New World in the 1700′s.  When they discovered just how many pecan trees there were here in New Orleans, they decided to try an impromptu version using what they had on-hand.  Somewhere along the line, cream was added to the recipe to thicken the caramel, and the American South’s version of the Praline was born!

Pralines are a very simple confection. Sugar makes up about 90 percent of the recipe, followed by butter, condensed milk, and vanilla. The mixture is cooked down to the soft-ball stage, then the pecans are added. The basic flavor is that of caramelized sugar, with its slight bitterness and taste of butterscotch. The vanilla is an important but subtle aspect, and a good mouth feel comes from the milk. There are dozens of other flavor varieties today.

In New Orleans,  not too far from our bed and breakfast, Loretta’s has pecan, coconut, chocolate, and rum flavors of pralines. Her Pralines are some of the best. At Aunt Sally’s in the French Market, her original product has a beautiful vanilla note and creamy texture. One can watch the manufacturing process in the window, or go in and take in the aroma. After boiling the liquid concoction for a half-hour, they pour the sticky, molten mixture onto a marble slab around pecans. Simple, yet perfect and you’ll be hard put not to buy a box to take home.

The right pronunciation of the word is “prah-LEEN.” The only people who say “PRAY-leen” are those who would say “CRAY-fish” or perhaps if they are from Texas!  Our advice? Have a sweet time in New Orleans no matter how you pronounce the candy’s name and check-out all the confection shops in town to look for the flavor that appeals to you the most. The praline has become a favorite treat in NOLA, so go ahead and try the sweet that has left a major mark on New Orleans cuisine! The Innkeepers of the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast can give you a map with all the popular locations that produce the little morsels.

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Have you eaten a New Orleans Praline? Stayed in a Bed and Breakfast? Have your own recipe or story to tell? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

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