Friday, January 15, 2016

Southern Pralines

When I was a kid, we went to the big 31 flavors ice cream store on a regular basis.  When the store started offering a flavor called "Pralines 'N Cream" it was no surprise to me that it quickly became their number one seller.  Rich creamy vanilla ice cream with a hint of pecan, and big chucks of sugary coated pecans to satisfy that crunch craving.  

Of course the main ingredient in this heavenly mixture was the pralines.  As I grew up, I never saw a praline (pronounced PRAY-leen) and always assumed they were just pecans in a sugary coating, like a pecan cluster of some sort.  But the  South taught me right.  

Pralines look like a cookie, but they are a candy to be sure. A rich, sugary creamy delicious candy. Really, they are like nothing else.  I've had pecan sandies and pecan cookies but nothing is a Praline.  And, now you're asking, "So, tell us, Marv, what exactly IS a praline?"

First the history lesson.  Pralines were first made in the 17th Century in France, the French used almonds because of their prevalence at the time. After settling in New Orleans, the French began using the more locally found pecan. Since then the native creole Louisianians have improved the praline by adding milk giving the praline it's unique, distinctive savory taste for all generations to enjoy. Are you craving them yet? Good, because here is a great recipe! 

  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) granulated white sugar
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz) light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) milk - whole is preferred but 2% is fine
  • 6 tablespoons (3 oz) salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup (12 oz) pecans (These can be left whole, rough chopped or fine, even toasted if you prefer.)
  • Before starting to cook, lay out a piece of parchment, aluminum foil, or a silpat for the pralines. Set a second spoon nearby in case you need to scrape the candy off the first spoon.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan, at least 4 quarts. Do not use a smaller pan as the syrup will bubble up during cooking. It's also harder to stir in a smaller pan.
  • Cook the syrup over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When it comes to a boil, start stirring constantly. Let it boil for about 3 minutes, until the syrup registers 238°f - 240°F on a candy thermometer.
  • Remove the pan from heat immediately and keep stirring. Stir, stir, stir! It will become creamy, cloudy, and start to thicken. When you feel it starting to get grainy, the pralines are ready. You can also hear it if you listen closely; the crystals will make a scraping noise against the side of the pan.
  • Drop spoonfuls of the praline syrup onto your waiting parchment. Work quickly, as the syrup starts to set as it gets cool. Let the pralines cool and harden for at least ten minutes before eating. They will keep in an airtight container for several days, but they're at their very best within the first 24 hours of making them!
Special notes because I know how you think: 
  1. Stick to the Recipe - Stick to the ingredients listed and just do each step of the recipe as it comes, your pralines really do come out just fine.
  2. Don't Mess with the Butter - This probably falls under the "stick to the recipe" advice, but it's worth mentioning it on its own. More butter than the recipe specifies and they spread out too much.Too little butter and the flavor is compromised.
  3. Have Everything Ready Ahead of Time - Pralines are less fussy than other candies, but once you start making them, you can't stop or pause. Measure out all the ingredients before turning on the stove, and make sure you have a piece of parchment or silpat laid out to receive the molten pralines. Get your spoons, apron and your candy thermometer all within easy reach.
  4. Use a Large Pot - What this means is, "Use a pot that's bigger than you think you need." The syrup bubbles up as it cooks and a big pot also makes the job of stirring easier. For this size recipe, a 4-quart saucepan is just about the right size.
  5. Don't Stop Stirring Until the Pot Talks - This refers to the step of cooling the syrup before dropping the candies to harden. It starts off very loose and liquidy. As you stir, sugar crystals start to form and the syrup will start to feel thick and grainy against your spoon. The "pot is talking" when you can hear the tiny sugar crystals scraping the sides. That's the sign to head to the counter and drop your pralines.
  6. Don't Double the Recipe - The problem with doubling the recipe is that you can't drop the pralines fast enough before the syrup gets too cool and hard in the pot. Since a batch of pralines only takes fifteen minutes or so to make, it's better to just do multiple batches if you're cooking for a crowd.
Final Recipe Note: Don't forget the pan scrapings! Whatever is left in the pan is the cook's treat. Scrape those up and eat them with a spoon.

Finally, Have I ever made some pralines? No.  I'm not that good with the stove, yet. (Still perfecting my biscuits!)  But I do know people who make terrific Pralines and I enjoy them whenever they do.  Yes, they are southerners, thanks for asking.

No comments:

Post a Comment