Pistachio praline paste, made by mixing roasted pistachios and caramelized sugar, can be used in numerous desserts to add a wonderful pistachio twist.
Before we start, let’s clear something up to avoid any confusion. Today’s recipe is for pistachio praline paste made with caramel. It is not the bright green pistachio paste made by simply mixing pistachios (and occasionally sugar). Making caramel can be time-consuming, but the result makes it worth it!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Minimal ingredients: All you need to make this paste are pistachios and sugar. You can also add just a pinch of salt, to elevate all the flavors. I love to use fleur de sel but if you don’t have any, simply use regular salt or omit it altogether.
- Versatile: Pistachio paste can be used to flavor pastry cream, hidden as a filling in choux pastry or even enjoyed with a spoon!
- Customizable: You can make the paste as sweet as you like. You can also replace part of the pistachios with almonds for a milder taste.
The quality, color, flavor and consistency of the praline paste all depend on the type of pistachios used. Let’s talk about some characteristics to consider.
Ideally, you should buy the pistachios when you plan on using them. Buy only as much as you need, if possible. Pistachios will become rancid and bitter if kept for too long or if they aren’t properly stored. I find it best to store unused pistachios in the freezer in a zip-lock bag. Since the pistachios are the main ingredient in this recipe, you should ideally use high quality pistachios. But they can be very expensive so get what you can.
Shelled or unshelled
Using shelled pistachios will speed up the process considerably. However, if price is an issue and time isn’t, you might prefer to buy unshelled pistachios. If you do, make sure the shells are slightly open. If they are closed, the pistachios aren’t ripe enough and might be bitter. You’ll also have much more trouble removing them from the shell! A benefit to buying unshelled nuts is that they will last longer than shelled nuts so you won’t have to worry about leftovers.
Roasted or raw
Lightly roasting the pistachios deepens the flavor. It also helps release the natural oils, making it easier to mix the paste. For larger quantities, it’s best to roast the pistachios in the oven. If you are only making a small quantity, you can roast the pistachios in a skillet over medium heat. However, I wouldn’t recommend making a smaller quantity for this recipe as you’ll have trouble using the food processor. It’s best to roast the nuts whenever you need them as they will spoil faster once roasted. Note that roasting darkens the color of the nuts and therefore the paste.
Whole or sliced
I would recommend using whole pistachios if possible. I used pistachio halves which were cheaper than whole pistachios. But they will spoil faster. They also burn more easily than whole pistachios when roasted so extra care is needed.
Some people recommend blanching the pistachios in boiling water. I found the paste delicious without going through the trouble of removing the skins. But if you prefer a smoother paste or a brighter green color, you could try blanching the nuts first.
We will be making dry caramel, where the sugar is heated in the pot in a thin layer – without any added water – until it caramelizes.
What pot to use
It’s best to use a heavy-bottomed pot that offers a bit more protection from the heat source. The pot should also preferably be light-colored so that you can easily determine what color the caramel is and when to take it off the heat.
To speed things up, I recommend using a large pot for this recipe. If you use a medium-sized pot, you’ll have to add the sugar in batches to avoid burning the sugar. Try to find a pot that is just big enough to get a thin layer of sugar. If the pot is too large, the layer of sugar will be very thin and too exposed to the heat. You’ll have trouble controlling the caramelizing process and might end up burning the caramel.
Caramel success tips
- Don’t walk away when making caramel.
- Don’t crank up the heat to speed up the process.
- Keep an eye on the color. The darker the caramel, the more bitter it will be.
- Avoid stirring too much.
Okay, let’s make some pistachio praline paste!
How to Roast Pistachios
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F, conventional setting).
- Spread the pistachios evenly in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure there is enough space between the pistachios. Try not to crowd them.
- Bake for 6-8 minutes (in the middle of the oven) until fragrant and lightly browned. Tip: It’s best to stir them halfway through baking with a spoon for an even bake. Note: If using sliced pistachios, the roasting time will be shorter, about 4-5 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set aside while you prepare the caramel.
How to Make Dry Caramel
- Pour the sugar into a large pot, spreading it evenly so you get one thin layer. If the layer is thick, it’s best to add the sugar in batches. Place over medium-high heat. Don’t stir the sugar yet. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, lower the heat to medium-low.
- Gently push the undissolved sugar crystals towards the melted sugar with a heatproof spatula, avoiding the sides of the pot. If the color starts to change quickly but the sugar hasn’t fully melted yet, lower the heat even further.
Don’t worry if you get sugar clumps in your caramel. They will eventually melt. Just lower the heat if needed to avoid burning the caramel and stir until all the sugar melts.
- When the caramel turns amber and all the sugar has melted, remove from the heat. This will take about 15 minutes. Caramel is extremely hot. Please be very careful when handling. Do not be tempted to try it when it’s hot!
The darker the caramel, the less sweet and more bitter it becomes.
- Immediately drizzle over the roasted pistachios. Cool down at room temperature. If you place the pistachios and caramel in your mixer while they are still hot, the food processor might get damaged.
How to Make Pistachio Praline Paste
- Break the caramel into small pieces and place with the pistachios and salt in the food processor bowl.
- Process, occasionally scraping the bowl, until the praline paste becomes slightly runny and shiny (or until the desired consistency is reached). This process will take a while, about 10-15 minutes. If your food processor gets hot at any point, stop mixing and let it rest for 5 minutes. If your food processor isn’t powerful enough or the pistachios were a bit dry, you might need to add a little bit of neutral vegetable oil to loosen the paste. Tip: The longer you mix, the smoother and runnier the paste will be. For a thicker, grainier paste, stop mixing earlier.
- Store in an airtight container and chill until needed.
Troubleshooting Pistachio Praline Paste
Bitter praline paste
- Overcooked caramel: The longer you cook the caramel, the more bitter it becomes. You should take it off the heat as soon as the caramel turns amber and all the sugar has melted. Pour it immediately over the nuts to stop the cooking process. If the color of the caramel changed quickly but the sugar hadn’t fully melted, you probably need to lower the heat next time.
- Pistachios are bitter: Unripe pistachios can be bitter. This could also happen when using old pistachios or if the pistachios weren’t stored properly and have become rancid.
Thick praline paste
- Undermixed: The praline paste will become runnier the longer you mix it. If you’ve been mixing it for a while but it is still too thick, your food processor might not be powerful enough. Try adding a little bit of neutral vegetable oil before mixing again.
Grainy praline paste
- Mix for longer: Homemade praline paste is supposed to be grainy. But if you find it too grainy, try mixing it for longer. If your food processor isn’t powerful enough however, mixing it for longer might not help.
- Use blanched pistachios: Removing the pistachio skins will yield a smoother paste.