Have you ever tasted French almond and hazelnut praline paste (a.k.a. praliné)? I kept seeing it in French recipes but couldn’t find it in stores. I decided to make it myself one day and I did not regret it at all. If you love nuts like hazelnuts and almonds, then you will absolutely go crazy over this! And it’s not that hard to make.
What Is Praline Paste?
Praline paste is simply caramel and toasted nuts, grinded together until smooth. The traditional recipe uses hazelnuts and almonds in equal amounts but you can easily use only one type of nut.
There are two ways to make praline paste
- You first toast the nuts in the oven, prepare caramel and pour it over the nuts.
- You skip the toasting step and prepare a syrup. When the syrup reaches 118°C, you add the nuts. The difficulty in this technique is that you have to keep stirring until the sugar that is coating the nuts caramelizes. This usually takes a while. And it’s better to have a thermometer for this method.
The first method is easier to do as you don’t really risk burning the nuts while trying to caramelize them. As for the taste, I think I prefer it when I do the second method. But the difference is minor. So I think the best would be for you to try both methods, on separate occasions and then decide which is more suitable for you.
So let’s quickly talk about the equipment you will need and then we’ll go through each method separately.
You will need a powerful chopper for this recipe. If yours isn’t, then you will have to go very slowly. Stop mixing regularly and make sure it doesn’t overheat. I personally use the KitchenAid food chopper with a capacity of 830ml. I’m very happy with it. The only downside to it is that I can’t make a big batch of praline paste and store it. It only fits one portion of the recipe mentioned below.
What saucepan size should you use? The sugar should cover the surface of the pan in a thin layer to caramelize evenly. I was using a small saucepan (pictured here), thinking it was enough for this amount of sugar. But then I found it very hard to melt all the sugar evenly, even though I was only pouring 1/3 of the sugar at a time. If you are following this recipe, I recommend using a medium sized saucepan. Make sure it is light colored so you can keep an eye on the color of the caramel.
You will also need:
- A wooden spoon
- A baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- A glass jar
- A digital thermometer (for method #2).
We’ll be using Philippe Conticini’s recipe found on Empreinte sucrée.
You will need:
- 130 g of granulated sugar
- 100 g of hazelnuts
- 100 g of almonds
You can just use hazelnuts if you want, or just almonds. It’s really up to you. You can buy raw hazelnuts and almonds and then toast them yourself. I just buy roasted nuts from the shop. I initially did this because I could only find roasted hazelnuts, not raw. And it worked out pretty well since I could quickly skip ahead to the next step in the preparation and save some time.
Just pick whatever is easier for you, in terms of convenience and availability. You can see from the picture below that I’m using hazelnuts without skin as it is quite bitter. For the almonds, you can leave the skin on.
Method #1: Pouring The Caramel Over The Nuts
If you are using raw nuts, the first thing you need to do is toast the nuts to bring out their flavor.
Toasting The Nuts
- Spread the nuts evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 180°C (350°F) for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn and shake them a little every now and then if needed.
- Remove them from the oven and let them cool down slightly. Then, using a kitchen towel, rub the skins off the hazelnuts. It’s okay if you can’t get everything.
- Place the nuts back on the baking sheet (with the parchment paper). You will drizzle the caramel on them, once it’s ready.
Making the caramel
Before we start, I have to warn you that caramel is very hot. Please be very careful. It’s best to wear long sleeves to protect your arms and oven mitts if needed. Hopefully you won’t need it but keep an ice pack handy or a bowl of ice water next to you in case you burn yourself.
There are two ways to make the caramel: the wet method (sugar with water) and the dry method (just sugar). We will be using the dry method here as there is less risk of crystallization which would cause the caramel to turn grainy.
- Pour 1/3 of the sugar into the center of a small saucepan. If you add all the sugar at once, it won’t melt evenly and you might end up overheating the sugar. Heat over medium heat. I usually start off with the setting on 5 or 6 (out of 9) and decrease it when I see that the sugar is melting. Don’t try to speed up the process by increasing the heat too much or you’ll burn the caramel!
Keep an eye on the color of your caramel. The darker it is, the more bitter it becomes. You should also keep in mind that it will keep cooking for a little longer when you take it off the heat so it’s probably better to remove it from the heat just before you get to your desired color (provided the sugar has all melted). For a sweet caramel, aim for a medium amber color. And please, as tempting as it is, do not lick the spoon!!! The caramel is very hot!
- Drizzle the caramel over the nuts and let it cool down at room temperature.
- Once it has cooled down, break the caramel into pieces and place them in your food chopper.
Making the paste
If your chopper is small like mine, it is better to break the caramel into small pieces and to add it progressively.
Make sure your caramel-nut mixture has cooled down very well so you don’t overheat your chopper (and to avoid burning your fingers!)
- Now pull up a chair. Yes, you’ll need it! And start mixing away! This will take time and it really depends on what chopper you are using. It will probably overheat every now and then. So you should stop mixing as soon as you feel it’s getting warmer. Let it rest for 5 minutes (or more if needed) and start mixing again.
- Whenever your mixer gets stuck, open it and mix everything with a spoon. Start mixing again.
- Your mixture will first turn into powder, and as you keep mixing it will become smoother and runnier. Don’t despair, you’ll get there! It should take about 20 minutes but this time will vary, depending on your mixer.
- Pour your tasty praline paste into a glass jar and refrigerate it.
Method #2: Adding Nuts To The Syrup
Making the syrup
You will need the same ingredients as those used for the first method, except we will be adding 30 g of water to make the syrup.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. You will pour the caramelized nuts on it when you finish.
- In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, boil the sugar and water until a syrup is formed and a digital thermometer registers 118°C. It took about 5 minutes on heat 7 (out of 9).
Caramelizing the nuts
- Once the temperature is reached, lower the temperature (heat 5 for me, for about 5 minutes until the next step) and mix in the nuts. You could add roasted nuts or raw nuts. It doesn’t matter as they will get toasted anyway in the pan. I used toasted hazelnuts and blanched raw almonds.
- The syrup will start getting thicker and the smell will get more intense. Reduce the heat to medium-low (heat 4 for about 5 minutes) and keep stirring so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. I actually stopped to take pictures and the nuts were completely stuck to the pan. If this happens, just give it a good mix, scraping the bottom of the pan gently and they will loosen up.
- You will initially see a white, sugary layer forming on the nuts. Keep heating and stirring until the sugar starts to melts and caramel forms. Once the nuts start caramelizing, decrease the heat even more (heat 3).
- Carefully spread the caramel-nut mixture on the baking sheet. Once it has cooled down, simply mix as explained in the first method.
How long does this process take?
It should take about 20 minutes. If at any point, the nuts start looking or smelling burnt, decrease the heat and make sure to keep stirring. It might take a bit longer but they will taste better. I found that gradually decreasing the heat worked well. I thought at one point I had burnt the nuts because they were looking very dark but thankfully I hadn’t!
One issue I encountered with this method was that the brown skin of the almonds started “leaking” color into my syrup and it was hard to determine whether it was burning, caramelizing or if it was just the almonds. So I used blanched almonds in my second attempt and it worked really well.
Troubleshooting Praline Paste
The praline paste is bitter
The bitterness could be due to a dark caramel, in which case you should stop heating your caramel earlier next time. For a sweeter caramel, aim for a medium amber color.
If you kept the skin of the nuts (especially hazelnuts), this could also contribute to the bitterness so simply rub the skins off with a kitchen towel before mixing next time.
The praline paste isn’t completely smooth
The more you mix, the smoother it becomes up to a certain point. It seems mixers for homebakers aren’t powerful enough to yield a silky smooth texture. But if you haven’t done so already, try removing the skin of the nuts next time you make it. This might help.
The praline paste is too runny
The more you mix the praline paste, the runnier it becomes. If you want it thicker, trying mixing it less next time.
What to do if your mixer is too weak
I’ve read other people first break the caramel-nut pieces very well before putting them in the mixer. I have not tried it personally but you could bang them a few times with your rolling pin to have smaller pieces.
The almond and hazelnut praline paste keeps very well and can be stored in an airtight container for several months in the refrigerator.
And that’s it! I kept avoiding recipes that included praline paste because I couldn’t find any. But now that I know how to make it, we often have a jar in the fridge. My son just loves it as a spread and keeps requesting it! I hope you’ll love it too!