Sunday, June 24, 2018

CHOCOLATE PRALINES: National Praline Day!

Today is National Praline Day! I love Pralines, and I always buy them when I'm in New Orleans. Friends who know me bring them back from New Orleans, too. But I've also made them. They're fabulous!

There are so many variations of Pralines, so I'm posting several recipes, for you to make at home. Of course, if you're in the Big Easy, you'll want to sample, as I do, and buy a few different kinds. Each of the following recipes has its virtues, and none has any vices. I, of course, add Chocolate to my Pralines. No big surprise there! So all three recipes feature chocolate and nuts!
PRALINE:
1) a confection of nuts and sugar: as in almonds cooked in boiling sugar until brown and crisp
2) a patty of creamy brown sugar and pecan meats

If you associate Pralines with the South, you'd be right! The original praline was a sweet confection made of almonds and some sort of creamy sugary caramelized coating. Lots of stories about how the Praline came to New Orleans and the South. One is that Pralines were first concocted in the home of 17th century French diplomat Cesar du Plessis Praslin by one of his chefs. The name "Praslin" eventually evolved into "praline." I don't buy that story since they were already popular in Europe in a slightly different version. Another story is that pralines were brought over from France by the Ursuline nuns, who settled in New Orleans in 1727. This makes sense since Pralines were already in the French tradition. Almonds were in short supply, so cooks began substituting the nuts of the native Louisiana pecan trees, thus the modern pecan pralines were born. Praline pecans were known as individual pecans covered in the sugary coating. The new pecan pralines quickly spread throughout New Orleans and became a common confection in the area.

Pralinières were women who used to sell pralines on the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans during the mid-to-late 19th century, providing a unique entrepreneurial opportunity to les gens de couleur libres (free people of color). Not only was being a pralinière a source of income, it was a means of providing for oneself without any strings attached. This was a rare situation for economically less-fortunate, but resourceful women of that time period, who were often employed as indentured servants or forced by need and without choice into plaçage, as kept-women of wealthy businessmen. (Read more about Praline Sellers of Old New Orleans here)

Because New Orleans was a thriving port, people from all over the world came through, and the praline spread with them. Many people are unaware of the candy’s historical origin, and the praline is thought of as a southern confection not necessarily specific to New Orleans. Some believe the pecan praline is a Texan candy, whereas others assume it came from Savannah. The pronunciation of the candy is a bit of a point of contention as well. In New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, where there are many communities settled by the French, the pronunciation is prah-leen, with the long aaah sound, which is closer to that of the candy’s namesake du Plessis-Praslin. Other regions of the country, including parts of Texas, Georgia, and New England have anglicized the term and pronounce it pray-leen. Other terms for pralines include pecan pralines, pecan candy, plarines and pecan patties.

Whatever you call it, you're going to love these recipes for Chocolate Pralines. They're simple to make. The first recipe doesn't call for a candy thermometer, but get one ready for the next two recipes. Candy thermometers are easy to use, and if for some reason you don't have one, you can always use the water test.

This first recipe is adapted from Sunset Magazine.

1. CHOCOLATE PRALINES I

Ingredients
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp milk
1 1/2 tsp unsweetened DARK cocoa

Directions
Place almonds in 9-inch pie pan. Bake in 300° regular or convection oven, shaking pan once, until nuts are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Coat 12-inch square of foil lightly with vegetable oil (about 1 teaspoon).
In 8- to 10-inch frying pan over medium-high heat, combine sugar, butter, corn syrup, and milk. Stir occasionally until mixture is bubbly and golden, about 5 minutes. Add cocoa and stir until smooth, then stir in toasted almonds. Pour mixture onto oiled foil and spread about 1/4 inch thick. Let cool until solid, about 10 minutes. Break praline into 6 to 8 large chunks.

2. CHOCOLATE PRALINES II

Ingredients
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate (50-65% cacao)
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed firmly
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup pecan pieces

Directions
In heavy saucepan combine the sugar and cream.
Heat to 240 degrees (115 C) on candy thermometer (stirring constantly).
Remove from heat, stir in butter and chocolate.
Cool mixture to 110 degrees F (43 C).
Stir in pecans.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper and allow to cool and harden.

Want a kick with your Chocolate Pralines?  Homesick Texan has a terrific recipe for Mexican Chocolate Pralines.  Here's her recipe, but be sure and read her post about her first attempts.. and to see her sensational photos. Yes, bacon can become an ingredient!

3. Mexican Chocolate Pralines 
(adapted from Aprovecho)

Ingredients:
1 disc of Mexican hot chocolate (Ibarra)
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups pecans, 1 cup chopped and 1 cup whole
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp fresh orange zest or 1 tsp dried orange zest
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions
Set oven at 350 degrees, roast pecans for 10 minutes.
In large pot, melt together on medium heat - chocolates, sugars, pecans, milk, butter, cinnamon, orange zest, Cayenne, and sea salt, stirring occasionally. Place candy thermometer in pot to monitor heat. When it reaches 235 degrees, remove from fire and add vanilla and stir pot for two minutes. There should be bit of shine to the candy but candy will be a bit more thick.
Scoop pralines onto parchment paper. (If too stiff, add warm water to mixture.) Let cool for an hour and remove. They will still be a bit shiny but will lose that shine after a few hours. 

Note from Homesick Texan: If you want to add bacon to these, fry up four slices, crumble them and stir into praline when you add the vanilla.

These are unbelievably fabulous!!!!

Friday, June 22, 2018

MINI CHOCOLATE ECLAIRS: National Chocolate Eclair Day

Today is National Chocolate Eclair Day. My favorite eclairs are not the long thin "traditional" hotdog shaped eclairs (although I like them), but rather, the mini-eclairs. They're easy to make using a basic Pâte à choux.. puff pastry. I've been making them for years.

I've posted this recipe before, but it's always worthy of a re-post. These eclairs are so easy and yet look so beautiful and taste fabulous! Hope you enjoy making these as much as I do!

I've adapted this recipe for Mini Chocolate Eclairs from Paula Deen. This is one of my favorite recipes because it's simple and delicious! I never use margarine, so I've dropped that alternative from the original recipe. Real butter is always best. As always, I use the very best dark chocolate for the topping. I've changed a few measurements and directions in the recipe for the Novice Eclair Chef. If you're a purist, just click on Paula Deen's recipe above.

Because these eclairs are so small, feel free to have 3 or 4. :-) Yield depends on how small you make them, but I usually get about 40 small eclairs from this recipe. They're great for a crowd!

Want to make these even more chocolate-y? Add a handful of chocolate chips to the egg cream filling or fill with chocolate cream instead: just add 1/4 cup dark cocoa to the dry ingredients. To fill the eclairs, I use a pastry bag, but if you don't have one, you can always fill a Ziploc bag and cut the tip off to pipe the filling into the eclair.

You will probably have some extra icing. Half the recipe if you ice sparingly. I'm for more chocolate, so there's never much left.

MINI CHOCOLATE ECLAIRS

Pastry:
1 cup water
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup sifted flour
3 eggs

Filling:
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp flour
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla

Icing:
3 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 400F.
Heat water and butter to boiling point. Add flour and stir constantly until mixture is smooth and forms a ball when tested in cold water. Remove from heat and let cool. Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. Drop dough from teaspoon, elongate slightly to form small eclairs (or drop in 'puffs'), onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes or until light brown. Set aside to cool.
Prepare filling by mixing all dry ingredients. Very slowly add milk over low heat and cook until mixture thickens (don't let heat get too high), so you don't have any lumps. Then pour this custard  into beaten eggs, stirring quickly (so eggs don't cook). Cool and add vanilla.
With serrated knife, slice pastry puffs lengthwise (or if you have puffs make a hole), but not all the way through. Pipe custard mixture into center.
Melt chocolate for icing, add sugar, and cream. Cook over medium heat until soft ball stage. Let cool and beat until smooth. Ice tops of eclairs.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

KLADDKAKA: Swedish Sticky Chocolate Cake for MIDSUMMER


I love Midsummer aka the Summer Solstice! June 21 is the longest day of the year, and I love those extra hours of sunshine. I can only imagine what it's like in Sweden, Land of the Midnight Sun. Here is a traditional Swedish recipe to celebrate Midsummer (Midsommar). Chocolate may not be native to Sweden, but this chocolate treat is celebrated there. Chocolate is global!

Kladdkaka: Swedish Sticky Chocolate Cake

Kladdkaka is a gooey Swedish chocolate cake, and it's simple and quick to make. You'll love it. Add some whipped cream and raspberries or strawberries (wild strawberries? channeling Ingmar Bergman?) or other summer berries, and you're good to go! Be sure not to overbake the cake and cool before cutting. This recipe is adapted from several different recipes. Kladdkaka is similar to Mudcake or Lava Cake...do not overbake.

Ingredients 
14 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup bittersweet chocolate
4 large eggs
1 cup caster sugar (if you don't have any, whirl some granulated sugar in the blender and remeasure)
2  cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Whipped cream
Fresh berries

Directions
Preheat oven to 425°F and grease 9-inch springform pan.
In small saucepan, melt butter. Once melted, remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool.
In large bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until foamy. Check that chocolate is cool, then whisk into egg mixture.
Fold in flour and baking powder until incorporated.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 12 minutes (don't overbake).
Cool completely before serving.
Top with whipped cream and berries!

Photo: All Recipes