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Gianduja and praline are a luxurious filling in many of our chocolates – but what are they actually made of?
Gianduja and praline are words you’ve probably heard many times before linked to luxury chocolate, but explaining what they are and the difference between them can prove more of a challenge. We’re going to take a deep dive into the difference between the two chocolate and nut creations, where they came from, and how they have evolved over time.
What is praline?
Praline is a sweet confection made from nuts and sugar, but over the centuries three different types of praline developed; French, Belgian and American. These pralines use similar ingredients, but have their own personalities.
The classic French praline consists of pouring caramel over nuts (traditionally almonds) and letting them set to a crunchy, sweet brittle. According to French food encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique, praline was invented by a man called Lassagne in the early 1600s, who was chef to French Diplomat the Compte du Plessis-Praslin. The Compte took the credit for the sweets, to which he also gave his name (praline is derived from Praslin). Armed with the recipe, chef Lassagne left Plessis-Praslin in 1630 and retired to the town of Montargis, where he took his recipe and sold it in his own shop, the Maison de la Praline, which exists to this day.
The caramelised almonds can either be eaten as they are, or blitzed together to make a crunchy or smooth mixture used in chocolate fillings. This type of praline quickly spread across the continent and is generally regarded as a European praline.
Pralines from Belgium don’t necessarily always have nuts in them, and are soft-centred chocolates, first created by Belgian Chocolatier Jean Neuhaus II in 1912. The traditional pralines are made from a chocolate shell filled with a fondant centre, but now include fillings of marzipan, caramel, chocolate mousse and cream, or even more exotic fillings like yuzu and pine nut.
However, due to Belgium’s proximity to France, pralines can also have the same profile as the French nutty praline previously mentioned.
American South praline
According to Taste Atlas, Ursuline nuns from Italy took their praline recipe to Louisiana in the 1700s, where it underwent certain changes. The area was replete with pecans and sugar cane, so by the 19th century, chefs in New Orleans substituted the traditional almonds with pecans and added cream to the caramelised sugar to thicken the mixture. This resulted in the American South praline.
These pralines (sometimes called pecan candies) have a creamy, soft consistency, similar to fudge. To make them, brown sugar, butter, cream and pecans are heated until the water evaporates and it has a thick, sticky consistency with a rich caramel colour. They are then simply laid out in circular shapes to cool before they are ready to eat. We can’t deny that pecans and caramel are a match made in heaven, and we even made our own Caramel Pecan Chocolate Selector to prove it!
What is Gianduja?
Gianduja is a chocolate and hazelnut creation that was born in Italy. According to Great British Chefs, the first gianduja paste was developed in Turin in 1806 after a steep rise in cocoa prices. Chocolatiers were looking for ways to save money by reducing the cocoa percentage in chocolate without reducing the quality or flavour, and so mixed their dwindling cocoa supplies with local hazelnuts that had been ground to a paste. As you can imagine, the smooth hazelnutty, chocolatey concoction became an instant hit with the locals.
In 1852, the recipe was adapted by chocolatiers Michele Prochet and Isidore Caffarel, who gently roasted the nuts before grinding them, as well as adding some almonds to the hazelnut mix to give it a richer flavour. These new chocolates were launched during the Turin Carnival in 1865 and handed out by men in Gianduja masks.
Top tip – the last ‘j’ in gianduja is pronounced as a ‘y’ sound!
What’s the difference between the two?
The main difference between the two are the nuts used and whether chocolate is added to the sweet treat.
Although traditionally developed with almonds, French praline (the most commonly used in the UK) can be made with any nuts, and only includes caramelised sugar and the chosen nut. It is still classed as praline, regardless of how fine the mixture has been ground, so a praline can be smooth or crunchy, or even a slab of nuts covered in hard caramel.
Gianduja, on the other hand, is more limiting with the nuts that can be used. It is almost exclusively made with hazelnuts, almonds, or both, and unlike praline, chocolate or cocoa powder is added to the mix. It is always ground to a fine paste, so you won’t find a crunchy gianduja – it prides itself on its silky smoothness and melt in the mouth texture.
Although both praline and gianduja use nuts and sugar, they are varied in their flavour and the texture, so you can choose which one you prefer!
Experimenting with nutty chocolates
At Hotel Chocolat, we love traditional chocolates, but we have never limited ourselves by sticking to classic recipes only. We’ve experimented with a host of different nuts to make pralines or smooth gianduja fillings for our chocolates, matching them with the right chocolate – milk, dark or white – that compliments their flavour best.
Roasted walnuts are ground to a smooth, decadent filling in our mellow Walnut Praline Selector. We decided that our supremely creamy white chocolate would be a perfect pairing for this morsel, so when you’re craving a smooth but decadent chocolate to balance out a coffee or to finish off a meal, these will satisfy any praline craving!
Winner of the Academy of Chocolate Bronze award, we’ve taken inspiration from the New Orleans-style praline by encasing our pecans in caramel chocolate. Unlike the Louisianans, our Caramel Pecan Chocolate Selectors don’t leave the pecans whole; instead they are sumptuously smooth and ready to be nibbled on!
Can’t decide whether you want a smooth or crunchy nutty chocolate? Sample our Chocolate Macadamia Nut Selector, where we’ve ground buttery macadamia nuts into a silky, indulgent praline and embedded a full gently roasted nut on top! To complete our macadamia praline, we’ve slathered this simultaneously crunchy-smooth concoction with our mellow and melty milk chocolate, so you get everything in one bite!
We’ve done all the shelling for you and ground high-quality pistachios into a velvety, not-too-sweet filling. We didn’t add too much sugar to our Pistachio Chocolate Selector because we wanted to contrast the rich flavours of pistachio against the sweetness of our caramel chocolate, which plays off against each other beautifully.
Chocolate and hazelnut are a classic combination, but we decided to get a little more adventurous with our Chilli Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Selector. Don’t worry though – it won’t set your mouth on fire! Instead, our soft hazelnut praline releases its tingle of chilli after a few seconds. We’ve enrobed this twist on a classic in dark chocolate, so the rich hit of cocoa can stand up to the warmth of the chilli.
If you’re on the hunt for a classic hazelnut gianduja, our Gianduja Chocolate Selector will give you the traditional smooth chocolate hazelnut filling. For a darker chocolate taste, our Gianduja Bombe Selector consists of our classic dark enrobing a hazelnut paste so smooth it melts in your mouth like butter.
So, what is your favourite, gianduja or praline? We think the best way to truly judge the difference between the two is to try our own gianduja and praline selection for yourself! Our selectors are three for £10, so you can buy a variety for the complete chocolate tasting adventure!! Chocolate and nuts are a well-loved combination, and here at Hotel Chocolat we have a selection of not only the classics, but also some tasty twists on the traditional tastes, devised by our very own chocolatiers!