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Pralines

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The most familiar of all street sweets in New Orleans remains pralines (pronounced here with an au sound). The name is attributed to a chef employed by the Maréchal du Plessis-Praslin (César, later Duc de Choiseul) in the 1600s; the amandée risollée dans du sucre took on the name of du Plessis-Praslin. New Orleans pralines, unlike bread pudding, have enjoyed a consistent, though rarely passionate love affair with locals and visitors. Pralines also have been less sullied with ingredient substitutions. The basic recipe of the first pralines made here in the eighteenth century remains caramelized sugar with a slight bitterness coming from pecans. This version is very different from French confectionery by the same name, which is a cooked mixture of sugar, almonds or hazelnuts, and vanilla. Often ground to a paste, this mixture is most likely to be found as a pastry or candy filling. Oral tradition holds that both the Ursuline nuns and later émigrés fleeing the French Revolution contributed to the appearance of the praline in settlements all along the Gulf Coast. The Louisiana settlers used the native pecans and at first only brown sugar in their rendition of this French candy. Pralines were said to have been sold on the streets of New Orleans by free women of color and slaves. The basic recipe remains sugar, nuts, butter, cream or milk, and vanilla. Variations include the type of sugar added and the occasional substitution of peanuts or coconut for pecans. In addition, various editions of The Picayune Creole Cook Book and other cookbooks added such faddish recipes as white and pink pralines, the latter using cochineal, made from lady bugs and other insects, which generally imparted a red color but could result in pink, thus bolstering the national propensity of serving all white, all pink, or all green foods at parties during the early twentieth century. Praline parfaits, praline cookies, and other desserts made from pralines seem to be a phenomenon of recent times, though praline ice cream was given a place in a number of early cookbooks.

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