Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Paste

Well. It’s a miserable, rainy May day here in London and on days like these I like to hide away in the kitchen. I’ve been making quite a lot of caramel recently and decided I’d use some of it to make my own hazelnut praline paste. The resulting paste is lovely and tastes like Nutella, but is more… artisan and grown up. It is nevertheless divine, and very versatile – it would be equally irresistible as a patisserie filling, mixed with ganache to roll into truffles, or straight from the jar with a spoon. It’s super simple to make – a hazelnut praline whizzed up in a food processor with a bit of cocoa and milk!

When making caramel you need know these two tips:
– to use the heaviest pan you own, as a thick base protects the delicate sugar from heating too quickly and burning
– it’s best if the pan has a light-coloured inside, so that you can see the colour of the caramel accurately

I use my beloved Le Creuset cast iron casserole pan for caramels. I love using it as it was a wedding present and whenever I see or use any of our wedding presents I automatically think of the person who gave them to us. I love it! The slow cooker – oh hey Mark! The clock in the lounge – the lovely Patersons! Our antipasti platter? Brother- and sister-in-law! Our food processor set – my husband’s much-missed and adored Grandad. Just another reason I love cooking at home.

Recipe

To make your own Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Paste, you will need:

100g blanched hazelnuts
100g caster sugar
1tbsp cocoa powder
A few drops of milk

1. Toast your hazelnuts in a dry frying pan set over a medium heat. You could do this in the oven as well, but I prefer the stove top. Make sure you shake the pan every so often to turn the nuts. After a few minutes, the nuts will start to sweat as their oils release, and I went a bit further and scorched them a little – just my personal taste.

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Taste one of the toasted nuts – already tasting familiar, right?

2. Next up, the caramel. Dump the sugar into the pan and leave over a medium heat. Literally, just leave it: you have to be patient when making caramel, but if you’re using a good pan it will only take 5 or 10 minutes. While the caramel is cooking, oil a baking tray – we’ll turn our praline out onto this to cool.

Don’t turn the heat up to speed things up, as the sugar can go from raw to burnt very quickly and you’ll just have to start again.
Do NOT stick your finger in for a taste – melted sugar is hot, hot, hot and you will instantly regret it.
You shouldn’t need a spoon, just swirl the sugar around the pan to mix when you’re feeling the need to stir.

Here’s a step-by-step of my caramel process:

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i. Dump the sugar             ii. Starting to melt                   iii. After first swirl

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iv. After 2nd swirl                     v. After 3rd swirl…                  vi. … 4th swirl

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vii. 5th swirl                              viii. 6th swirl                         ix. Final swirl!

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x. The finished caramel!

3.  Once your caramel is a golden brown colour and all the sugar is melted, turn off the stove, tip the toasted hazelnuts into the pan and coat in caramel. Spread this praline out onto the oiled baking tray and leave to cool.

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4. After about half an hour the praline should be completely cool. Break it up into pieces that will fit in your food processor.

IMG_1579A satisfying chunk of praline!

5. Blend the praline into a smooth paste – this took about 5 minutes, which was longer than I expected.

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i. Fine crumbs                           ii. Starting to bind
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iii.                                                      iv.

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v.                                          vi. Finally, a buttery texture.

6. Once you have achieved a smooth, spreadable texture, add 1tbsp of cocoa powder to the paste and blend again. 

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7. Add a drop of milk to loosen the paste and mix. Repeat until you have reached a consistency you like – I ended up only adding two drops of milk. If you’re going to be piping it, you might want it thinner. If it’s going to become truffles, you might want it stiffer.

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8. And there you have it! I stored my spread in a sterilised a jar (sterilised in the oven at 120º for half an hour) and kept it in the fridge.

And the sun came out! Still raining though…

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