Making Praline Paste
I think it was the moment that I tasted praline that I decided I wanted to be a pastry chef. It was during my junior year abroad in Germany, and though I was there to study literature, I made it my mission to try every Bäkerei and Konditerei I could find within the city limits. That was the first time I tasted praline-a hazelnut almond filling that was sweet and nutty but also tasted of caramel. I was in love.
I use praline paste in my Crunchy Gianduja bonbon, and instead of buying a big imported tub of it, I make my own. That way I can control my ingredients: organic sugar and the best hazelnuts from Oregon, the most flavorful almonds from California. Also, I can determine how much nuts and sugar I want to use. If I need a 60% fruit praline, I simply adjust the amount of nuts to equal 60% and the sugar to 40%.
First, I blanch the almonds myself so that they don't lose their flavor in the otherwise industrial process. It's as easy as pouring boiling water on the almonds in order to loosen the skins. Each almond is squeezed to release the skin, which is a great thing to do while watching TV. Then they are toasted.
Next I toast the hazelnuts and rub as much of the skin off them as I can.
I cook up a caramel using organic sugar and then pour it onto the nuts and let it cool.
This gets broken into pieces and processed in the food processor.
Commercial praline paste is silky smooth, which will never happen in the food processor, but luckily the machine I use to make my bean-to-bar chocolate, with its granite wheels and base, works perfectly to grind the praline into a smooth paste.