Sugar and spice with a few tasty pecans thrown in for good measure certainly add up to something nice. And in New Orleans, that treat is known as a praline. Like its counterpoint sweet dessert, the beignet, pralines were brought to New Orleans by the French in the late 1700s. It also shares the distinction of being one of the unique foods of New Orleans that is beloved by visitors and locals alike.

There are several different versions on the history of the pecan praline in the United States. Although stories surrounding its origin differ, it is widely agreed that pralines are named after a 17th-century French diplomat whose name and title was César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin. The actual creator of the praline is believed to have been his personal chef, Clement Lassagne.

What has been agreed upon is that the original praline was roughly a sweet confection made of almonds and some sort of creamy and sugary, caramelized coating. The candy was named praslin, after the owner of the kitchen instead of the chef, but Lassagne did well enough for himself, eventually opening a sweet shop in France called the Maison du Praslin, which still exists to this day. However, in Europe, the praline is entirely different candy altogether — almonds are used instead of pecans. In Belgium and France, the praline is a smooth paste of cocoa blended with finely ground nuts and used to fill chocolate bon-bons. In New Orleans, however, pralines became a smooth creamy dessert, more similar to fudge. It is usually made by combining sugar (often brown), butter, and cream or buttermilk in a pot on medium-high heat, and stirring constantly, until most of the water has evaporated and it has reached a thick texture with a brown color.

It is believed that pralines were brought over from France by the Ursuline nuns, who came to New Orleans in 1727. The nuns took care of several young women sent over from France at the request of Bienville to marry New Orleans’ colonists. The nuns instructed the girls in many endeavors including the art of praline making. Creole women and women of color learned to make pralines and could often be found selling their homemade sweets on the streets of New Orleans well into the 20th century.

Pralines were brought to New Orleans by the French in the late 1700s.

One Creole family that shared their praline recipes and built an empire is the Bagur-Jacquet family. In 1935 husband and wife Pierre E. Bagur and Diane Jacquet, along with the help of their four children, launched Aunt Sally’s, which evolved into the brand people know today via retail stores and mail order. Today the third and fourth generations of the Bagur family carry out Pierre and Diane's dream. Aunt Sally’s shares the company’s deep roots and specialty recipes with every person who wants to experience a small taste of New Orleans. Praline lovers can access Aunt Sally’s at two locations — on Decatur Street in the French Quarter and Uptown on St. Charles Avenue.

Laura’s Candies, established in 1913, is the oldest candy shop in New Orleans. Located at 331 Chartres St. in the heart of the French Quarter, the locale is popular among tourists and locals alike. Laura’s Candies offer a variety of traditional New Orleans confections, including its Creole Praline and a host of other praline flavors including rum, coconut, chocolate and maple. In a single year Laura’s Candies uses enough sugar, which is manufactured in New Orleans, to fill three dump trucks, according to the company’s owners.

Voted Best in America by Gourmet magazine, Southern Candymakers, with two locations in the French Quarter, does a brisk business in both stores as well as online. The majority of candies sold in the shops can be found online, but often their chocolate makers get creative and make small batches of new candies sold only over the counter. Southern Candymakers’ pralines are made on-site, travel well and can keep for up to three weeks.

Elsewhere, the pralines at Evans Creole Candy Co., like so many other companies, are the result of resourceful New Orleanians who wanted to create a business for themselves and do what they love – namely, make sweets. Evans was created more than a century ago by Andre Dulac-Evans, who hand-made pralines and other candy. The company store, located on Decatur Street in the French Market, joined forces with another local giant, Café du Monde, which sells its products along with Evans’ pralines to hungry tourists and locals.

Known as “the New Orleans Queen of Pralines” Eva Louis Perry, founder of Tee-Eva’s Famous Pies and Pralines, was born and raised on the Glendale Plantation of Colonie, Louisiana. The journey which lead to the eponymous title, the “New Orleans Queen of Pralines,” started in 1980 when she began sharing her grandmother’s family recipes with the world. A natural cook and entrepreneur, Tee-Eva (shortened from Aunt Eva), has been cooking pralines and pies for decades and her shop located on Magazine Street remains a mecca for those in search of this special dessert.

It is believed that pralines were brought over by the Ursuline nuns
With countless pralines sold weekly in New Orleans, the numbers demonstrate the popularity of these desserts. Truth be told, desserts and pralines in particular are an important staple in the Crescent City, and a great source of pride to those who create them. Simple and traditional, pralines are a part of Louisiana’s history and continue to reign supreme today. 

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01 Jun 2016

By Meaghan Clark