I had a friend, many years back, who told me that when he visited New Orleans he asked everyone to direct him to the shop that sold the best pralines in town. “But none of them was as good as the ones you make,” he told me.
I’m not surprised, and I’m not just blowing my own horn here. Pecan pralines are a treat made in most Creole families’ homes, and no commercial ones can hold up to those made by a Creole Nanan or Grandmere.
New Orleans pecan pralines are not the same as classic French praline. Classic praline is made with almonds or hazelnuts, and is more like a brittle, cooked to a harder stage; a product that would have been difficult to stably maintain in the humid pre-air conditioned environment of coastal Louisiana, as the sugar would have absorbed the moisture, softening and eventually melting the praline. Savvy Creole cooks adapted, using the plentiful pecans so readily available to them, and by going with the problem by adding cream (or evaporated milk in the pralines of my childhood) and brown sugar, hence creating a softer confection.
I, like so many others, learned to make these pecan pralines as a child from my aunts, testing for the soft ball stage* the old fashioned way, by dropping a tiny bit of the sugar mixture in a glass of water. Sometimes that worked, but it took me years to figure out that for pralines that hardened reliably, cooking a bit beyond the initial stages of soft ball was required. It means working quickly, though, once that stage is reached, to pour the mixture on to lightly buttered parchment paper, or the waxed paper of my childhood. Once you have mastered the task, however, I doubt you will ever again be satisfied a commercially made praline.
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup evaporated milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of salt
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1. Combine both sugars in a sauce pan with the evaporated milk and stir to dissolve.
2. Cook over medium high heat to soft ball* stage (or a bit beyond really).
3. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the butter, salt, vanilla and pecan halves.
4. Pour pecan sugar mixture by tablespoons full onto parchment lined baking sheets, and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Peel off the parchment and enjoy!
* Soft ball is described as being between 235 and 240 degrees Fahrenheit. I would definitely recommend cooking these to the 240 degree temperature. A candy thermometer is advisable.