In honor of national praline day on Sunday, June 24, here’s the scoop on the South’s most iconic candy.
WHAT IS THE PRALINE?
We’ve all tasted it before and know it’s got pecans in it, but what is a praline really made out of? Typically, this sweet treat is made using sugar, corn syrup, milk, cream, butter, and of course, pecans. However, the ingredients and quantities typically vary by vendor and region.
A BRIEF HISTORY
If you walk into any shop in the French Quarter, the chance you’ll find a praline is very high. This creamy, nutty New Orleans treat is virtually everywhere. Most locals and tourists may believe that the praline is a native treat to the city, but just like most things in New Orleans, it has its roots in France.
This tasty candy is thought to have been named after diplomat César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin who was rumored to have asked his chef, Clement Lassagne to create a sugar-coated almond treat to give to his love interests. However, other theories suggest that Lassagne created the praline after he witnessed an apprentice accidentally spill almonds in caramel or seeing playful children caramelizing sugared almonds using a candle. Regardless of the real story of the praline’s inception, the treat became a phenomenon in Europe and in distant New Orleans.
But how exactly did the praline come here? It is believed that in 1727, Ursuline nuns charged with caring for the casket girls whom they taught domestic crafts and prepared for marriage, brought the recipe with them. Soon, the recipe was adapted to suit local resources and culture. Because almonds were scarce, New Orleanians began using pecans as their nut of choice. They also added cream and brown sugar to the original recipe. Soon, selling pralines became a booming business and marked the advent of one of the earliest American street foods.
Typically, pralines were sold throughout the Quarter by praliniers, who were women of color. Just like today’s street performers in the Quarter, vendors typically dressed up as a “mammy” who presented herself as a diligent black woman content in slavery. Later, the image of the “mammy” would, unfortunately, be capitalized on by white praline makers. Thankfully, this racist image has all but disappeared today, with many candy makers choosing different symbols to represent this iconic treat.
WHERE DO I FIND THEM?
For praline connoisseurs and those who are unfamiliar with this candy, here’s a not so short, but sweet list of the best places in New Orleans to buy a delicious nutty treat. And if you’re missing a taste of home, most of these local spots offer online orders and shipping to satisfy your praline cravings.
Opened in the 1980’s by Loretta Harrison, the first African American woman to run a successful praline business, this New Orleans favorite has been serving up delicious cookies, pralines, king cakes, and other treats at two locations: a cafe in the Marigny and a stand at the French Market. Her praline flavors include original, rum, chocolate, coconut, peanut butter, and no pecan, in case nuts aren’t your thing. Make sure to also try her praline beignet and sweet potato cookie to satisfy your southern sweet tooth. Café location: 2101 North Rampart St., (504) 944- 7068
This family-owned candy store has been operating for over 70 years in the French Quarter. Stop on by any day of the week to get your praline fix. They offer an assortment of pralines, a praline sauce, bacon pecan brittle for lovers of sweet and salty, as well as mini pralines, or pralettes. In addition, they sell frosted pecans covered in brown sugar which most resemble the earliest incarnation of the praline. 714 St. Louis St., (504) 523- 5662
Taking the streetcar down St. Charles? Make sure to stop by this hidden jewel in the Lower Garden District. The praline selection includes flavors such as coffee, coconut, and traditional. However, what’s even more enticing about this colorful shop is its cupcake selection which features daily and assorted flavors. You won’t be able to avoid walking out without a home-baked treat. Currently, the store is closed for renovations, but make sure to check in regularly to see when they reopen. 1728 St. Charles Ave., (504) 525-1910
If you’re taking a walk down Decatur, stop by one of two Southern Candymakers stores conveniently located on this street. Make sure to grab a praline or two, or maybe even more from these famous candy purveyors whose pralines were named the “Best in the USA” by Bon Appétit. Besides the traditional flavors, they also have a sweet potato praline for the adventurous. 334 Decatur St. and 1010 Decatur St., (800) 344- 9773
This eclectic shop on Magazine St. was home to none other than the “Praline Queen” herself, Aunt Eva. Tee-Eva’s, a family-owned praline and pie shop touts its use of family recipes and Cajun ingredients. Tee-Eva’s offers signature pecan and coconut pralines. Don’t let this limited selection stop you from coming by. She’s been featured on Food Network, Elle, and Country Living to name a few, which in itself merits a visit. 5201 Magazine St., (504) 899-8350
Opened first in 1935, these praline purveyors have a lot of experience under their belts. Their pralines are cooked in copper pots using only Louisiana ingredients. In honor of the tricentennial, Aunt Sally’s has a tricentennial tin featuring bananas foster, cafe au lait, and triple chocolate pralines. What’s even better, is their twelve-month Praline of the Month Club subscription which is sure to satisfy all of your praline cravings. As if pralines weren’t enough, their two locations offer an assortment of seasonings, cookbooks, mixes, and kitchen accessories. 750 St. Charles Ave., (504) 522-4456; 810 Decatur St., (504) 524- 3373
This praline joint was originally established as a home delivery service targeting women who had no time to cook at home. Now it’s a restaurant that caters to all of your cajun-creole desires with pralines made using the spoon dripping method as a bonus. They also have a small location at the airport, so next time you’re flying out and want to bring a taste of home with you, stop by their candy and souvenir shop for a treat. 542 Frenchmen St., (504) 943-3934
I know what you’re thinking. What would a store specializing in candy apples have anything to do with pralines? Well, this French Quarter shop not only offers a wide selection of apples, but chocolates, ice cream and praline treats too. Their unique selection features a praline brownie, a chocolate praline and praline candy apple, and of course the classic praline to suit all of your dessert cravings. 201 N. Peters St., (504) 524- 0601
It wouldn’t be a proper list without a feature from the oldest candy shop in the city which opened in 1913. Besides selling their signature Mississippi Mud and truffles, this candy destination wouldn’t be complete without a large praline selection featuring flavors such as chocolate, maple, rum, and original. 331 Chartres St., (800) 992- 9699
Want to learn how to make a praline and other New Orleans classics to impress your friends? Book a hands-on or demo class with the School of Cooking so you can make and later enjoy your own sweet and savory creations. But if you don’t have the time or patience to cook, no worries, NOSC sells fresh, daily made pralines in their shop too. 524 St. Louis St., (504) 525- 2665
THE PRONUNCIATION BATTLE
Lastly, you may be asking, “So how do I pronounce praline?” Here in the deep South, we firmly believe you say it as “prah-leen”. Others, particularly northerners, pronounce it as “pray-leen”. Not to mention, the praline is made with pecans, another highly contested word. Here, many say “pah-kahn” while others choose “pee-can”. Either way, you’ll still be getting the same treat, but with a slightly different name.