Flanders scores highly around the world not just for its quality chocolate, but also the refined pralines made with it. It’s no surprise then to learn that it was in Brussels where the first Belgian praline was first created.
History of the Belgian praline
In 1857, Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels’ prestigious Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. To make his medicines taste nicer, he coated them in a thin layer of chocolate. From this simple idea, his grandson, Jean Neuhaus Jr. inherited his father’s passion for chocolate but also came up with the ingenious idea of replacing the medicine with a delicious soft filling. So, in 1912, the praline was born.
In addition to this, in 1915 Louise Agostini, wife of Jean Neuhaus Jr, created the first ‘ballotin’, a decorative box secured with a ribbon in which the chocolates were sold – helping to establish Belgian pralines as an indulgent luxury.
In the next few years the praline boomed in Belgium as chocolatier Charles Callebaut learned in 1925 how to transport liquid chocolate. Ten years later, Basile Kestekidès (family of the founder of Leonidas), created the legendary Manon: a large praline based on coffee-flavoured butter cream enrobed in white chocolate. This delicious treat is still a hit today!
Enjoying a praline is an experience of flavours, textures and emotionsTop Chocolatier Herman Van Dender - Van Dender
Tasting Belgian pralines like a chocolatier
You may think it sounds easy, but tasting pralines is an art in itself. You need a wide-ranging palate, learned from years of experience. To get to the level of a chocolatier you must train your taste buds – what a chore! – by eating a lot of chocolate, and concentrating on what you are doing throughout. You need all your senses alert so you can begin to taste the essence of the ingredients.
It isn’t just the sweetness you’re looking for either. The sensation in the mouth is also part of the experience. Mouthfeel is about how a praline and the filling fuse on the tongue. A well-made praline should have layers of elements, such as vanilla cream or hazelnut praline, which melt at different temperatures. Variation in textures is also an important thing to note, like the difference between a crunchy nuts or nougat. Keep your taste buds peeled for any acidic notes that might appear from any fruit within the chocolate too.
The future of Belgian pralines
Thanks to the high quality of Flemish butter and cream, Belgian pralines are in high demand across the globe. With hundreds of our chocolatiers working tirelessly to create exciting confectionary masterpieces that nod to our rich heritage with the cacao bean.
But our chocolate masters haven’t been resting on their laurels. Over the past twenty years, the Belgian praline has moved forward. Contemporary chocolatiers use less sweet, much purer chocolate. When once there was only white, milk and dark, today the varieties and distinctions of taste are much wider. Formerly, a chocolatier would keep his recipes securely guarded from the competition. In the early days, rival manufacturers worked with more or less the same ingredients and using the same machines: the only things that made them stand apart was the recipe.
Today, praline recipes are no great secret but the creativity and innovation behind them is what makes modern day pralines stand out. It starts with the beans the chocolatiers choose on the plantation, the production methods and the personalised machines they use. It’s about so much more than just the recipe. But while you might be able to taste Belgian chocolates on all corners of the globe, there is nothing like tasting our freshly made pralines right from the source in Flanders and Brussels.