I first made this “praline” in David Lebovitz’s recipe for Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream. It is by far, the best ice cream I have ever tasted and ever made.
But is this candy really a praline? No, probably it’s not. According to my The New Food Lover’s Companion book, a praline is a “brittle confection made of almonds and caramelized sugar.” Alternative definitions I found included pecans or other nuts. While there are no nuts in this recipe (though you certainly could add them if you wanted to), I still have no idea what else to call it and if it’s good enough for David Lebovitz, it’s good enough for me.
When it came time for me to make a dessert for Thanksgiving I decided to make a Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel. I’ve added this praline as a garnish (it wasn’t in the original recipe), and before I give you the cake recipe in a later post, I thought this sugar caramelization process warranted its own explanatory post. I had to make it a few times before I got it right and I wanted to document the process in greater detail.
What is Fleur de Sel? Well, first and foremost, it’s salt. But specifically, it’s sea salt, the most famous of which come from France and is harvested by hand, scraped off the top of the salt pans as they form. As you can see in the photos below, it has larger crystals and is slightly grey due to the minerals in it. I put in a mortar and pestle to break it up a little. If you don’t have fleur de sel, that’s ok. You can use any coarse salt or sea salt, but don’t use iodized table salt because it doesn’t have the same texture and the taste would be too strong. I used Sel de Guerande from Brittany which I bought a few years back in a spice shop in Chicago, but it can also be purchased online at Amazon, like this Fleur de Sel
Fleur de Sel Praline
1 cup sugar
1.5 teaspoons Fleur de Sel plus an extra pinch for garnish
Equipment: Heavy Bottom Pot
Baking Sheet, oiled or Silpat Silicone Baking Mat on a baking sheet
Measure out the salt in advance into a small bowl so you don’t have to do it in the moment. Time is of the essence.
Put the sugar in the pot over medium heat and in a minute or two it will begin to melt. I love this part; it’s chemistry in action, solid becomes liquid, dry becomes wet.
Watch it carefully, and stir with a spatula until all the sugar dissolves and starts to turn color. There will be some lumps of sugar, but they will dissolve if you keep stirring and breaking them up.
Pretty quickly, the sugar will start to get darker in color and may begin to smoke. Turn off the heat, add in the 1.5 tsp of salt and immediately pour out the mixture onto an oiled baking sheet or silicone baking pat. I’ve used both and really like the silicone mat (more on that below).
Use the spatula or tilt the pan to spread out the caramel and try to get it very thin. It will harden very quickly as it cools. While it is still hot, sprinkle it with a little extra fleur de sel for texture and garnish.
Resist the temptation to touch the pot or the caramel while it is still hot and sticky or you may get badly burned. The praline will cool very quickly. Once cool, you may be able to remove it in one piece (see photo below), especially if it’s been poured onto a silicone mat. It should just peel right off. On a flat surface, gently tap the praline with the back of a knife and it should break into pieces. Careful not to hit it too hard or you could get hit by flying shards.
Some things I learned in the process:
The first time I made this, I burnt it to a crisp because I let it stay in the pot too long.
Another time, I was impatient and turned off the heat too soon. I was left with undissolved lumps of sugar in my praline. Edible, but not “pretty.” Fortunately, if you have any failures, it’s only a cup of sugar lost. Start over, it only takes 5 minutes.
In the past, I’ve done it on an oiled baking sheet and it’s always stuck in parts. Plus, there’s an oily film on one side of the praline. With the mat, it peels off easily, but the texture of the mat does make a bit of an impression on one side.
To break up the praline into tiny pieces and keep them from flying away, put the larger pieces in a plastic bag and hit it with the back of a spoon. I also put them into the mortar and pestle to break them up.
Dipping pieces of the praline in dark chocolate would make a really delicious candy.
Important: the praline will get sticky and melt in the refrigerator so please store it in a cool, dry place. Tupperware works well. It will keep for a few weeks this way.