Hazelnut Praline Paste — Not your Mama’s Peanut Butter

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When my daughter was tiny, I looked for any excuse to get out of the house, so my days wouldn’t be an endless cycle of yesterday’s pajamas and sour milk. She was happiest in the morning (anyone with a small child knows that peace and quiet doesn’t come between 4 and 6 pm), so once my husband left for work, I’d get us dressed and head out to my favorite café.

It was a serene space with pale, unfinished wood, communal tables, and the aroma of baking bread. I’d order a huge bowlful of café au lait, and a softboiled egg (served with some of that wonderful French country bread), and I’d eat and read the paper while my daughter napped in her carseat and I got to pretend to be a civilized human being for a few minutes.


The real treat wasn’t on the menu. There were jars on each table of a brown spread resembling peanut butter, but the taste was something at once sweeter and more complex, the texture creamy but with a delightful sandy crunch. I always saved at least one slice of my soft boiled egg bread for the pâte praline, or praline paste – a hazelnut spread that I would take over Nutella any day.

Of course, now my daughter no longer takes a morning nap, and the chance of getting any peace and quiet in a café with her is pretty slim. The café does sell the praline paste, but at nine dollars a jar it’s not a regular on my shopping list. So I set out to make it at home, armed with the empty jar, the ingredients list and the internet.


Hazelnut Praline Paste
Serves: 6
Prep time:
Total time:
  • 2 cups raw hazelnuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-2 T walnut oil
  • 2 cups raw hazelnuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-2 T walnut oil
  1. Toast two cups of hazelnuts at 325 degrees until the skins have darkened and the hazelnuts are giving off a wonderful toasty smell. Then wrap them in a dishtowel and let them steam for about 10 minutes (don’t skip this step!)
  2. After steaming, use the dishtowel to remove the hazelnut skins.
  3. When the hazelnuts are skinned, mix 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a heavy saucepan. After you’ve stirred the sugar and water, leave on medium high heat, and DON’T TOUCH. After about 10 minutes, it will reach a lovely golden brown in its darkest part, and that’s when you add the hazelnuts. Immediately pour the hazelnut pralines onto a baking sheet lined with greased parchment.
  4. To make the praline butter, break the caramel into pieces that will fit into your food processor. Start running your food processor, and add the pieces of broken caramel one or two at a time, and process until they’re ground. The ground mixture will look like graham cracker crumbs, but keep processing. It will start to get smooth, like thick peanut butter. At this point add a teaspoon of kosher salt, and keep processing. Start adding oil – hazelnut oil is best, but walnut oil will work too. Any neutral oil will also work in a pinch (but I’d avoid canola – I think it has a nasty aftertaste). Add a tablespoon at a time, and process until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. (I used two tablespoons of walnut oil for mine)

Note: My favorite café is actually one of an international chain based in Belgium, Le Pain Quotidien, which translates to “the daily bread”. Despite the general McImages that the word “chain” conjures, I think this is a very good one and is generally worthy to stand alone. I’ve eaten at three locations in New York, four in Los Angeles and one in Bruges, Belgium, where it’s called Het Dagelijksbrood (Flemish lesson of the day). The locations are remarkably consistent in terms of food and décor, and the bread and the praline paste are very good. They also make the world’s best egg salad sandwich, open faced, with anchovies on top. If you should desire to experience this for yourself, my favorite location is on Melrose in West Hollywood, where there’s an enormous patio under a large tree which is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy a morning treat.


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