Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pecan Pralines

I'd never had a praline until visiting New Orleans. A) Where have I been? B) Why has no one told me about them? They are heavenly! I'd heard of French pralines before, but the American version has evolved into something entirely different. They are delicate and buttery sugar-based candies loaded with pecans, with a consistency somewhat similar to fudge. Being the Yankee that I am, when I walked up to the counter to order this newly discovered confection, I made the mistake of calling them"pray-leans." I was quickly corrected and informed that in New Orleans they are called "praw-leans." Duly noted.

These little guys melt in your mouth and are full of mouthwatering flavor. One of our favorite places we tried pralines was at Pralines by Jean, an entire shop specializing in these famous southern style candies. As Aaron and I explored New Orleans on foot, we devoured a couple of bags. We tried rationing them, but we soon gave in to temptation. Lucky for us, there were more to be found on every corner!

Once we returned to New York, we quickly went through withdrawals. As there aren't many places to find New Orleans style pralines in NYC, I thought I'd make them myself.  As it turns out, they're quite simple, the only tricky part is knowing when they're done. A candy thermometer alleviates this concern, as you remove the sugary concoction from the heat at precisely 240 degrees F (the soft-ball stage). These were just as magical as the ones we tasted in NOLA. What could be better than warm pralines made right in your own home?

Courtesy: Paul Prudhomme, Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

3/8 lb. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups pecan halves
2 tbsp. vanilla extract

Since you will have to work quickly while making your pralines and won't be able to walk away from the pot, be sure all of your ingredients are prepped and your utensils are close at hand.

Line two sheet pans with parchment and set aside. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over high heat. Once it has completely melted, add the sugars and heavy cream, whisking constantly, about 1 minute. Add the milk and chopped pecans, whisking for 4 minutes more. Reduce heat to medium and whisk continuously for another 5 minutes. Add the pecan halves and vanilla, and continue whisking until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage), about 10 to 15 minutes. The mixture should form a neat thread over the surface when drizzled with a spoon.

Remove the pot from heat. Working as quickly as possible, carefully drop the batter by heaping spoonfuls (an ice cream scoop works best) onto the prepared sheet pans. Each mound should form into about a 2-inch patty. Let cool completely and serve immediately, or wrap each praline in plastic wrap or foil and store in a well-sealed container.

  • If you're not using a candy thermometer (although I highly suggest that you do) you'll know the batter is done when it begins to form threads on the sides and bottom of the pot. Remove a bit of batter to test that it is done before taking it off the heat. 
  • If the mixture starts to smoke at any point during cooking, lower the heat.
  • Once you've reached the end of transferring the batter to the sheet pans, you may be left with a few pralines that do not look as glossy as the rest. This is the result of the batter cooling. It won't affect the taste at all, just the texture.
  • For quick and easy cleanup: place all your utensils in the pot and fill with water. Either let them rest until the batter has dissolved, or bring to a boil over high heat. 

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