Almonds in a dark, crisp caramel aren’t just used in European cuisine. They’re a popular Chinese nibble (although the Chinese do not pulverise them as we do in Europe), and gosh, they’re good. Praline is what the European call the powder made from pounding the toasted almonds and caramel. try making the powder, and mix it into ice-cream, a creamy cheesecake topping, chocolate sauces or meringues. Alternatively, do what I did on Saturday, and gobble the crisp little almonds whole.
Chinese caramelised almonds usually keep their little skins, as in the picture. If you’re making European praline, you’ll need to blanch your almonds before you begin. Don’t buy ready-blanched almonds (white almonds with no papery skin). It’s very easy to slip the skins off yourself – just pour boiling water over the almonds, and when everything has cooled down, pop them out of their brown skins. Blanched this way, your almonds will taste sweeter and fresher.
For every cup of almonds, you’ll need:
1 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons caster sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Put all the ingredients in a non-stick pan. Keeping everything on the move, cook over a medium heat until the almonds are brown and toasted, and the sugar is melted and golden. Keep a careful eye on everything; the almonds can burn very easily. Add the lemon juice at the end to prevent crystals forming.
Turn the contents of the pan out onto a buttered surface. I use a cold, non-stick baking pan, but in Italy and France a marble slab is traditional. Allow the praline to cool at room temperature until it is hard and brittle, then break the almonds up.
If you’re planning to use praline as a powder, put the cooled almonds and caramel into a plastic food bag. Wrap this in a tea towel, and wallop the hell out of it with the end of a rolling pin. Praline powder will keep in an airtight container for a few days, but you’re unlikely to be able to resist eating it for that long.