June 24th Pralines Day

Pralines are confections made from nuts, whole or crushed, and sugar syrup.   Most today have an added chocolate flavoring to them (particularly Belgian and French). In Europe, most pralines are made with almonds. In the US they generally use pecans. Really, any kind of nut can be used.

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In the 17th century, at Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte (France), Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (who lived from 1598 to 1675) inspired the first praline when he came up with a caramelized sugar poured over almonds. The idea caught on. In fact, any food that contains ground nuts and sugar syrup is considered a praline. The action of crushing the nuts and placing them in sugar is called pralin. So pralines exist in cakes and even ice cream.

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There are basically three types of pralines: Belgian, created with a hard chocolate shell and a soft or liquid inner core, French, made with almonds and caramelized sugar, and the American, made more like a fudge with any type of nut and the sugar made into a creamy or milky coating.

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When the French colonized Louisiana they brought their recipes with them.  Since nuts and sugar cane were readily available in the area it was only natural that they began producing pralines.  New Orleans chefs substituted the pecan since it was easier to find and they added cream to the mixture to make it richer.

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How to celebrate: Go buy some pralines, they are readily available at nearly any grocery or candy shop. Enjoy some praline ice cream. Make your own pralines from the recipe above.

April 5th National Caramel Day

Caramel has become a favorite in the world of candy, desserts and confections.  Few can resist its charms in any form.  Caramel is used in brittle, nougats, pralines, creme brulee, apples, ice cream, flan and bonbons.

The term Caramel may have come from several sources.  Some say it comes from the Arabic language while others say it is from Greece. The Spanish claim to have created the term along with the French and Portuguese.  The closest anyone can actually find though comes from Latin and the word Calamellus.  Defined, it means “sugar cane”.  It roughly means the same in any of those other languages, maybe because Latin left its mark on all of them.

In 1725 caramel was added to the English dialect though it had been in use in America since 1650 as a soft, liquid treat.  By the mid 1800’s over 400 companies in the Americas were making caramel and using it in many variations.  Candy manufactures in England came up with their own variation in the 1880’s making, Toffee.

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Now candy apples had been around since the turn of the century but Dan Walker at Kraft got the idea to cover the fruit in caramel in the 1950’s. Boy are we glad he did!

Want to make your own caramel?  Well follow this easy recipe. Caramel.