Mardi Gras is right around the corner (February 13th to be precise, more on that later). So for this chapter of All the Fixin’s, we thought it only right to attempt a Louisiana classic: the praline. Pronounced “praw-leen” if you’re from Louisiana (and if you are correct, Zelda would argue), or “pray-lean” if you’re from some other places (and if you’re Scout), the praline is basically a caramel patty filled with chopped and whole pecans. Not gonna lie, the copious directions for this one made it sound, well, a little daunting. Our friend M. Prudhomme gave us several annotations warning about the dangers of hot praline mixture, the tricky nuances of judging a praline’s doneness, the importance of thorough recipe prep. There were warnings of disaster if the candy is scooped from the pot at the wrong time, of smoke rising from our supposedly delicious brew, of failure if our mixture wasn’t exactly the right temperature.
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (plus extra for buttering your cookie sheets)
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup milk (we used skim, because that is what we had)
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Welcome to extreme cooking, Cajun edition! Before you head into candy battle, make sure you have all of your ingredients and equipment assembled. In addition to the aforementioned ingredients, you will also need:
A large pot (Paul specifically calls for “a large heavy-bottomed aluminum pot or skillet with deep sides.” This prompted some intense googling on our part, to determine if Zelda’s pot qualified. Our conclusion: As long as you don’t use cast iron, you should be ok. We assume it has something to do with the temperature of the pot, with cast iron heating up too much and burning the caramel? But we are not experts.)
A metal whisk, preferably with a fairly long handle
Two spoons OR even better, an ice cream scoop
Two lightly buttered cookie sheets
Ideally, a candy thermometer
With your arsenal at the ready, you may begin by melting the butter in the pot over high heat.
As soon as the butter is melted, add the sugars and the cream. Cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly (this will become a theme…).
Add the milk and the chopped pecans. Cook for 4 minutes, whisking constantly.
Reduce the heat to medium and cook for another 5 minutes, whisking — you guessed it — constantly.
Add the pecan halves and the vanilla. Continue cooking, and whisking, like your life depends on it, until the pralines are done! This should take about 15 minutes. If the mixture starts to smoke, do not be alarmed: Simply reduce the heat and continue to whisk. And how do you know if your pralines are done? We’re glad you asked.
Paul lists four methods to tell if your pralines are ready to scoop. First, if you are in possession of a candy thermometer, you can use it to determine when the mixture reaches 240 degrees. But if you don’t have one, don’t despair! You can use your eyeballs. When the pralines are done, the caramel will start to form distinct threads on the sides and bottom of the pan as you whisk. If you drizzle some of the mixture across the surface, you will also see these neat threads. Last but not least, as the pralines near completion, you can take some test scoops. Early test pralines will be runny, very shiny, and maybe even a bit translucent. As it cooks, they should become less runny and shiny. When they cool to an opaque finish, with a crumbly texture, you’re good to go.
Once your pralines have reached 240 degrees/thread stage, remove the pot from the heat. Quickly scoop it out onto the cookie sheets. The patties should be about 2 inches wide and ½ inch thick. Be very careful not to get any of the mixture on you as you scoop! It is extremely hot, and sticky — not a good combo.
Let the pralines cool completely. This is an excellent time to rinse your pot and tools off with very hot water, the caramel hardens and makes clean-up difficult. You could also pour yourself a drink (maybe even make yourself a sazerac, if you’re going for the true New Orleans spirit). Once the patties are solid and have lost all their luster, they’re ready to enjoy!
Y’all. These things are SO FREAKING GOOD. Paul did not steer us wrong: Our first tester was very chewy, the second slightly less so, but the final products were smooth on the outside, crumbly on the inside, with a much richer, nuttier flavor than the premature patties. They are definitely a decadent treat — more than one in a sitting and you may risk a diabetic coma — but man oh man are they delicious. Laissez les bon temps — et les pralines — rouler, y’all!