I am always on the lookout for exceptional food products, equipment, restaurants and generally any gastronomical find that particularly inspires me on a given week. These Friday posts are a forum for me to share these discoveries with you. Feel free to email me your own finds!
Michel Cluizel is a French chocolatier known for upholding some of the highest standards in chocolate making, and his confections reflect a level of quality on par with the best in the world. By using the purest ingredients and artisan methods, he foregoes timesaving and cost cutting measures employed by most chocolate manufacturers in order to ensure flavor and texture is not compromised in his creations.
I was introduced to Cluizel not through his chocolates, but by a lesser known jar of praline paste that he creates. European praline is made by grinding nuts and caramelized sugar to form a thick paste which is often used in pastry applications. When I was in patisserie class in culinary school, I became addicted to a cheaper version of it, which we had in bulk, in large tubs in the dry pantry. Like a cross between peanut butter and Nutella, except incredibly more flavorful and fragrant, I had determined long ago that it is best savored alone with a spoon than wasted on the filling of a French pastry.
Cluizel’s version exemplifies his attention to detail in the way it is processed. More expensive whole almonds and hazelnuts are selected, over smaller nut pieces, to ensure an even roasting process and better caramelization. Pure cane sugar is used over beet sugar or corn syrup, and after the mixture is cooked thoroughly in copper pans, it is finely ground with a granite millstone. You can definitely taste the difference.
As far as I am concerned this stuff is like liquid gold. It has an ambrosial quality to it, with hints of orange blossom and honey that works with the caramelized hazelnut flavor in a way that is decadently rich and complex in taste. It makes a wonderful spread on toast, or melted over a bain marie and poured warm over vanilla ice cream. It is the sort of thing you want to keep hidden in the back corner of your kitchen cabinet, since a small jar is a luxury purchase and should be doled out in small portions only to those who will truly appreciate it.
The praline is available in 8 oz. jars from La Cuisine in Alexandria, VA, either in their shop or purchased through their website.