One of the easiest ways to travel (through space and/or time) is through food. The tie between memory and taste is one of the most wonderful things about eating. Because we reminisce about our grandmother’s cooking or we miss certain dishes associated with our travels, we try to re-live those experiences in our kitchen. This was likely the reason that the French colonials living in New Orleans created the pecan praline. Longing for the almond and sugar treat known as a prasline back in their homeland, yet lacking the skills or ingredients to truly produce it, they ended up creating a distinctly American treat (less healthy, bigger portion, diabetes inducing…..) now associated with the city of New Orleans.
My family’s first taste of pecan pralines came when my grandparents honeymooned in New Orleans. They loved them so much that my grandmother sought out a recipe so she could conjure up some memories any time she wanted to. Thus my mother grew up eating and making them, and so did I. Little did we know that I’d end up marrying a Louisiana girl and giving out homemade pralines as wedding favors. This little candy just continues to weave itself into my family history.
Enough with the stories and on to the Southern food. Pralines are actually very easy to make, but hard to get right the first time. Thankfully, even if you mess up, it’s still gonna taste pretty good. I strongly suggest that if you are not familiar with them, buy a few so you know what consistency you’re aiming for. For this post, I tried out Paul Prudhomme’s recipe and my family recipe. Both produce very good and very different pralines. It really just depends on what you like. Paul’s recipe produces a darker, richer candy that walks a thin line between crumbly and chewy, while the family recipe is lighter and crumblier, with more of a sugar sweetness rather than a caramel sweetness. I’m sure the variation in the sugar to butter ratio between these recipes has a little to do with this.
To balance out my natural bias, I made plenty to share with friends and co-workers. The clear favorite was Prudhomme’s pralines, but all pralines were properly devoured by lunchtime. Only myself, the Head Southerner, and his wife preferred my family recipe, mostly because we share a love of sweetened condensed milk. If your sweet tooth need’s tickling, give one (or both) of these recipes a shot and let us know any stories you might have on pralines. Till we eat again….Ben O.
Head of Southern Food Engineering
Paul Prudhomme’s Pecan Pralines
- 1-1/2 sticks of butter (3/4 cup)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 2 cups pecan halves
- 2 tbsp vanilla or 1 tbsp each vanilla and bourbon
Melt the butter in a large, heavy pan over high heat. As soon as it’s melted, add cream and sugars. Cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Add milk and chopped pecans and cook for 4 minutes more, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking and whisking for 5 minutes. Add the pecan halves and vanilla and continue cooking and whisking till done (approx 15-20 minutes). A candy thermometer will read about 230-240 degrees when it’s ready.When done, remove the pan from the heat and quickly scoop out the batter onto a sheet of wax or parchment paper. Let cool completely before storing in plastic wrap or airtight container.
Na-Na’s Pecan Pralines
- 1/2 stick of butter (1/4 cup)
- 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 cups pecan pieces
Melt butter over medium heat. When melted, add sugars, milks, and salt. Slowly bring to a boil, whisking occasionally to prevent/monitor scalding. When the candy thermometer reads 230-235 degrees, remove from heat and stir in nuts. Quickly scoop out batter onto wax or parchment paper.
A few notes on making pralines:
- Don’t feel married to the candy thermometer. Make test pralines as you get close to done, watching for the perfect consistency and opaqueness. It’s usually good to go when it loses its sheen and begins to dull, and a thread will form on top of the batter when drizzled from a spoon.
- Do not try to multiply or divide the recipe. Speaking from experience, it won’t work out well.
- Whisk the batter often early in cooking, but only enough to keep from burning as it gets close to done. To much whisking late in the game may lead to crystallization.
- Boil water in the pan with all cooking utensils to aid in cleanup.