The dukes of Praslin-Choiseul stem from one of the most illustrious noble families in France, but they are best known because one of their pastry chefs invented the confection known as praliné in honor of his patron. Brillat-Savarin famously wrote “the invention of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a new star”. Apparently it does wonders for a family’s name recognition as well.
Praliné is basically a blend of finely ground hazelnuts and almonds and cooked with boiling sugar (otherwise, it would just be another form of marzipan). If it is mixed with chocolate, it becoms gianduja. If the nut fragments remain discernable in a matrix of caramelized sugar, the result is nougatine, one of the heights of French pastry-making. One interesting variety is feuilleté praliné, where the praliné is blended with pieces of extremely fine and crisp wafers to yield a confection that has at once the smoothness of praliné and the crispiness of a flaky pastry. When I was a kid, I would often buy “Lutti Noisettor”, a hard hazelnut-flavored candy where the core had this same stratified laminated and crunchy texture, but it seems it has been discontinued, perhaps the fabrication technique was too complex to be profitable.
Michael Recchiuti is a chocolatier who moved to the San Francisco about a decade ago to start his confectionery business with his wife Jacky. He has a boutique in the Ferry Building food court and a number of the better groceries in the city carry his products. A small operation like his cannot make its own chocolate couverture, and it appears he relies on Guittard, another reputable San Francisco company. In addition to his lovely chocolate bouchées, Recchiuti makes a line of chocolate tablets.
My favorite one is the Hazelnut Praline, which is actually a feuilleté praliné. A safety disclaimer ought to be mandatory on the wrapper, as biting into a piece is an amazingly intense experience. The couverture is excellent, but it is the praliné that grabs your attention: rich, dark, clearly made with a high proprtion of nuts to sugar and blended with dark rather than milk chocolate, and with the delightful crispy texture of feuilletine. Everyone I gave a taste of this bar had the same reaction of utter amazement, it is that good.
The chocolate bar is clearly made by hand, as you can see from the irregular shape on the other side of the mold. This is unfortunate in a way, as it means distribution will remain limited for the foreseeable future. I have worked it into my standard tour of San Francisco for visiting friends and relatives, as they are unlikely to experience it elsewhere.
All good things come to pass, and this product has been discontinued. The other Recchuti bars seem uninspiring.