There is something so old school sexy about praline. It seems so luxurious to me – I remember hearing Nigella describe it once as ‘edible gold filings’.
That was probably before the huge proliferation of actual gold being used in desserts, but the imagery still has impact.
It’s like the fairy dust of desserts – it also helps that there is a whisper of magic in the way it’s made. I mean, it’s two ingredients! You start off with a bunch of nuts, and some white granules of sugar, and you end up with a huge, translucent amber slab studded with hazelnuts.
It’s the stained glass window of confectionery. It’s like spinning gold from hay. And then you blitz it, or chop it, into delicious, gleaming rubble.
Praline is actually a surprisingly versatile and useful ingredient to have knocking around your kitchen. A handful of this stirred into your next batch of cookies or muffins will take them to the next level.
Or turn any dessert into a stunner with a shower of crunchy golden praline over it – plain ice cream, chocolate pudding, mousse, cakes, brownies, pies…all are transformed.
This is absolutely my favourite use for praline though, stirred through a base of rich vanilla ice cream; the definition of elegant simplicity.
Homemade vanilla always kicks the crap out of store bought. You just can’t beat the flavour of real vanilla beans infused in good quality milk and cream, and sweetened just enough.
Some of the praline softens, providing a bitter, nut-studded toffee swirl throughout the ice cream, and some of it stays crisp and crunchy on top.
It’s heavenly baby. I love to eat this with crepes – I couldn’t tell you why, I just think it’s the perfect combo. But really, there’s no bad way to eat this.
There’s a lot of pictures in this post – I just couldn’t stop taking them. The way the light hits that praline, and the crunchy pieces meld into the cream, trust me, this is only a small selection of the photos!
Is there a recipe that makes you as crazy as this one does to me?
- ½ cup (110g) caster sugar (regular granulated sugar is fine)
- ⅔ cup (125g) whole skinned hazelnuts
- 3 tbsp cream cheese
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups milk
- 1 + ½ tbsp cornstarch (cornflour in Australia)
- 1 + ¼ cups heavy cream
- ⅔ cup caster sugar
- 2 tbsp glucose syrup (or light corn syrup)
- 1 vanilla bean (or more, if you can afford it)
- To make the praline, place the nuts into a dry frying pan and cook them over a medium heat until they look burnished and golden.
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
- In a medium sized, heavy based saucepan add the sugar, along with 2 tbsps of water and place over a high heat.
- Cook the sugar and water, never stirring, until it begins to change colour. You can swirl the pan gently to ensure the sugar caramelises evenly.
- Once you have an amber caramel, carefully add the hazelnuts and keep cooking for a few minutes, swirling the pan so that all the nuts are coated.
- Tip the mixture out onto the lined baking tray, ensuring the nuts are in one layer, and leave to cool completely.
- To make the ice cream, place the cream cheese and salt into a large mixing bowl, and stir together until smooth.
- Place 2 tbsp of the milk, and the cornstarch into a small bowl, and stir them together.
- Place the remaining ingredients into a large saucepan, including the vanilla bean, split and with the seeds scraped out and added.
- Bring the mixture to the boil over a medium heat, and let boil for 4 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch and milk. Return to the heat briefly, until the mixture thickens.
- Now, slowly incorporate the thickened mixture into the cream cheese and salt, ensuring there are no lumps. Cover and chill until completely cold.
- Churn the ice cream according to the instructions on your ice cream machine.
- Chop the praline finely by hand, or in a food processor.
- When the ice cream is churned, pack it into a container, generously sprinkling each layer with plenty of praline, finishing with praline. You may have a little left over - bonus!