Three Confections from New Orleans

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Beignets, pralines, and calas are three sweetmeats that belong solely to New Orleans in the popular imagination. Generations of Creoles and now tourists have ended nights of revelry at the Café du Monde in the French Quarter with a heavy white china mug full of café au lait and a plate of sugar-dusted fritters freshly fried. These beignets are as popular as ever, though the other two sweets have suffered less kind fates. Once the little candies called pralines were sold on the street by the pralinières who made them in their own kitchens in great variety—white and pink coconut, almond, and pecan. Now, the praline is the victim of the modern food industry: coconut oil is often used instead of pure, fresh butter, corn syrups instead of cane sugar. At one time, the black women who mastered the tricky calas sold them hot for breakfast. These calas ladies are gone also; the rice cake that they brought from Africa has almost disappeared as well.