Real Pecan Pralines
- Pecan Pralines- Photo Courtesy of Mac Ledesma at Dishin’ In the Kitchen
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night and King’s Day. In southern Louisiana, it’s the beginning of Carnival season. King Cakes and Mardi Gras beads begin to appear in every home in the New Orleans area. I posted my recipe for King Cakes here last year, where you can also read more about Carnival season.
As my Carnival gift to you this year, I want to share a very special traditional recipe for pecan pralines, which we always had around holidays, even in Los Angeles, when I was a child.
“There were a lot of pecan trees around New Orleans, and sugar was cheap*” my mother told me, “so everyone made them.”
It’s true, everyone I knew in and from New Orleans made pralines, and I learned to make them at an early age. So I had to laugh when after the LA Helps LA event last fall (for which I made a couple batches of pralines), my cousin Raoul’s daughter, Kelly, who moved here from New Orleans only a little over a year ago, called to ask if I could give her my recipe for pralines. It was one of those cycle of life moments where I clearly got that I was the older generation now. I called Raoul, in New Orleans, and told him the story. Raoul is an excellent cook, but he said, “you know, I’ve just never been able to make pralines. I even went out and bought a candy thermometer, but just couldn’t get the hang of it.”
New Orleans pecan pralines vary from classic French praline, which is usually made with almonds, or sometimes hazelnuts, contain only white sugar, and no cream or butter. I suspect that although Louisiana was a French territory, and surely there were people who knew how to make classic praline, that the variation developed as many Creole dishes did- the settlers adapted and used what was available to them, pecans rather than the almonds of French praline.
Also, I’m sure it was pretty near impossible to make French praline, which is cooked to a hard crack and is more like a brittle. Sugar is hydrophilic (i.e. water loving), so classic praline would have absorbed moisture and melted quickly in the humid climate of Louisiana, so why not go with the moisture, and add the brown sugar and cream (actually, evaporated milk- again, I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get cream in southern Louisiana). I hope you will take the time to try your hand at making these pralines. Yes, if you visit New Orleans, you can buy them in the French Quarter, but they pale in comparison to real home made pralines.
And, yes, I told Kelly I would give her the recipe, but that really it was best to watch them being made. So on Christmas Eve when all the generations were gathered together, I asked Aida (another young cousin) if she would like to learn how to make pralines. Before she could get a word out of her mouth, her brother Martin, responded “Yes, she would!” We recruited my brother, Ric, to tape the lesson, and I’ve posted it here for you. In deference to Raoul, even though the recipe is simple, they are a little tricky, as you’ll see, but completely doable.
* Sugar cane has been grown in Louisiana since plantation times and still is today. The granulation process was invented in Louisiana, and Domino Sugar still maintains a large refinery in southern Louisiana.
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup evaporated milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of salt
- 1-11/2 cups pecan halves
- Combine both sugars in a sauce pan with the evaporated milk and stir to dissolve.
- Cook over medium high heat to soft ball stage (or a bit beyond really).
- Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the butter, salt, vanilla and pecan halves.
- 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!