Chocolate- and praline-making is a longstanding Belgium tradition. In fact, Belgian pralines are world-famous and highly sought-after, especially as gifts. When many people hear the word “praline” though, there seems to be some confusion between richly filled Belgian pralines and what are considered to be “traditional” pralines, often found in the United States.
So, what is praline, what is the difference between Belgian and “traditional” praline, and how have Belgian pralines come to be one of the world’s favourite treats?
What is a Praline?
When it comes to Belgian luxury chocolates, pralines (sometimes called chocolate bonbons in other countries) are at the top of the list. A Belgian praline is made of a chocolate shell surrounding a softer, sometimes liquid, filling. Belgian pralines are typically made of various combinations of hazelnut, almond, sugar, syrup, and milk-based pastes.
Belgian pralines can also be filled with other flavours that often include marzipan, salted caramel, nuts, coffee, and even spirits. They are smooth, decadent, and the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
History of Belgian Pralines
The story of Belgian pralines dates as far back as 1857 and is quite a tale. During that time, a pharmacist in Brussels named Jean Neuhaus tried to make his medicine more palatable for his customers. He used artisan chocolate to “paint” the medication, covering it to create a more pleasant experience that would be easier to swallow.
Then in 1912, his son, Neuhaus Jr., began adding a sweeter filling to the chocolate instead of medicine, and called his new concoction a “praline”. Neuhaus Jr. and his wife first began selling their pralines in a cone-shaped bag, generally used for fries. Because the pralines were soft and delicate, the husband and wife duo needed a better way to sell their new Belgian luxury chocolates. His wife got the idea to design a gift box that the pralines could be stored in individually and wrapped them as such, keeping them safe and beautiful.
Belgian Pralines Vs. Traditional Pralines
The general confusion around what exactly a praline is comes from the fact that there are several “types” of pralines that vary significantly from Belgian pralines. When you talk about pralines, most people think of the sweet treat that involves pecans.
Traditional American pralines are typically made with granulated sugar, brown sugar, cream, pecans, and butter. They’re especially popular in U.S. southern states, probably owing to the fact that they were first brought to New Orleans, Louisiana.
According to chocolatier lore, French nuns were the ones who first brought pralines to the States from France. Of course, changes were made to the recipe over time, resulting in what we call the traditional praline. American pralines are mostly associated with sugared pecans.
Pralines were actually one of the earliest street foods in the United States. A surprising number of women started selling these throughout New Orleans and the surrounding area after the Civil War, to help make a living.
Belgian pralines, on the other hand, are a Belgian luxury chocolate that is filled with a smooth, soft filling or liquid filling. Belgian praline fillings can be cream-based, called a ganache, or nut-based, called a praliné. A ganache is usually made from chocolate and cream, and may include other flavourings. Praliné filling involves caramelizing nuts and then grinding them into a paste, which can then be used by itself or with other ingredients.
Of the different types of pralines, Belgian pralines are considered to be more elevated and richly filled than their American or even French counterparts. They are widely sought after as gifts for every occasion, from holidays to birthdays to weddings.
Many artisanal chocolatiers have begun modernizing the Belgian praline, using infusions and ethereal oils to create unique flavours such as lavender, peppermint, and even rosemary. In fact, the abundance of unique and interesting flavours is one of the many reasons people love Belgian pralines.
How to Find the Best Belgian Pralines
A chocolatier spends years training their palate and mastering their craft. To be a master chocolatier, you must train your taste buds and have a wide-ranging palate so that you are able to taste every ingredient. Tasting pralines is an art form, and artisan chocolatiers spend years tasting all kinds of chocolate and ingredients so that they can continue the tradition of Belgian luxury chocolates.
Luckily, you don’t have to spend years training your taste buds in order to find the perfect praline. When looking for the best Belgian pralines, it’s important to remember that you aren’t just looking for sweetness. You also need to pay attention to the mouthfeel, or how the praline actually feels in your mouth. The texture of a praline is important. Belgian pralines should have variations in textures and the taste itself should be layered.
As you’re tasting pralines, become present to yourself and your senses. Pay attention to how it looks, how the chocolate shell feels in your hand. Notice how it smells, and how the texture feels in your mouth. And of course, take note of the different layers you can taste. Take your time and savour the experience. Belgian pralines should have incredible depth, so take the time to enjoy them. The time and notice you take with the chocolates will make for a unique tasting experience.
Shop Van Dender Belgian Pralines
At Van Dender, we use the purest ingredients to make our Belgian pralines, and create every batch with love and care. Choose from a rich assortment of different compositions. From classic pralines to spicy domes and spicy fusions, our pralines will delight your palate. You can choose a fixed number, from 4 to 64 pieces, brought in a custom-made and elegant case. Choose your Belgian pralines today and take part in a rich and delicious history.