By Meg Ast
This new column is dedicated to those readers who, like us, have a great pallet and a soft spot for all things sweet.
Today we are going to take a journey back in time and visit the kitchens of Duke Cesar de Choiseul Count du Plessis-Praslin (1598-1675).
It is mostly believed, but yet to be proven for lack of historical documentation, that the Duke’s Chief Cook Clement Jaluzot invented the first praline.
While we know he came up with the idea of roasting the almonds, it is unclear as to whether or not he appropriated some of the recipe elements from his under cooks and coated the almonds with sugar. During a peace reconciliation between the city of Bordeaux and the crown, the roasted almonds coated with sugar became a huge success and the Duke took credit for the invention and named it Praline after himself (Praslin became Prasline then Praline).
Years later Clement opened a shop selling his pralines, however, he was very careful about taking credit for his invention. It is only in 1903 that Leon Mazet and his wife purchased the recipe and their shop remains properly named “Au Duc de Praslin.”
Here, when we refer to the Praline, we think of New Orleans and the deep south where the Southern Praline was born. It was begun when the French settled in New Orleans and they continued their long tradition of Praline making. However, with time it was replaced with pecans as these were readily available and likely more affordable.
In 1912, Jean Neuhaus created the Belgian chocolate praline which is a chocolate shelf filled with soft and at times a crunchy filling. While the two words are exactly the same, their origins are vastly different.
The verb “Praliner” pronounced (Pra’lin’eh) means enrobing the root of a plant. It was coined praline because Jean Neuhaus, whose first profession was as a pharmacist in Brussels, was selling plant based candies to heal some conditions such as stomach aches or allergies to name just a few.
In the chocolate world today, some chocolatiers like to use many different words for their artisan creations. During our various visits to the Washington, DC, area we have found the word Pralines to be used quite loosely to describe truffle chocolates and other bonbons creating some confusion among customers.
Many artisan chocolatiers are removing the term Praline by promoting each individual chocolate with a name describing their creation, although, I believe that you could argue that when it comes to the purchase of a chocolate the words are lost in our minds as we let our eyes and our nose make the final decision.
The chocolatiers core desire is to create a unique piece which stimulates your senses in many different ways. When you visit any chocolate shop, you will be amazed by the varied flavors and textures offered. The world of chocolate is now forever married to many new ingredients and spices such as bacon, basil, balsamic vinegar, hot spices, and curry, just to mention a few.
Don’t be shy, let yourself explore the new tastes and sensations that these mixtures can bring to your taste buds, and if you can’t fathom the idea of a mix of chocolate and spices, then try chocolates with beer or liquor flavors and if this does not do the trick, then enjoy the more traditional European house which rarely strays away from the classics.
Remember chocolate in moderation is good for you and it is cheaper than therapy.
Marc and Meg Oremiatzki-Ast are the owners of The Frenchman’s Corner on Davis Street. You may reach the Frenchman at 540-825-8025.