In LITTLE GALE GUMBO, one of Camille Bergeron’s signature Creole treats are her creamy pralines. Pronounced Praw-leen, these pecan-laden discs are nothing short of perfection and were a source of addiction for me during the years that I lived in New Orleans.
So when my husband and I relocated/returned to Maine after Hurricane Katrina, I could think of no quicker balm to soothe my heartache than to finally try my hand at the confection that I had adored, the confection that above all others–except a Hubig’s coconut pie or a Cafe Du Monde beignet–says New Orleans to me and always will.
But with so many recipes and variations out there on the internet, who to ask for a tried and true version? I decided to consult my husband’s great-grandmother, a native Louisianan who had been making pralines for well over fifty years. Her recipe was very simple, she assured me, explaining the short list of ingredients. It certainly sounded easy enough, so I set about getting the sugar and cream, vanilla and pecans, and later that day, I followed her “easy” instructions.
Well. Instead of producing a dozen shiny, beautiful pralines, I ended up with piles of brown goo that eventually hardened on the bottom of our apartment’s freezer and had to be removed with a paint scraper when we finally moved. As I should have expected, like so many things, ease comes from experience. Ian’s great-grandmother knew when her praline syrup was ready simply by rolling a portion into a little ball. I would need to use a candy thermometer. At least, for a few years. Or twenty.
But this time out, I’m ready. I’ve got the scraper standing by, but I’m so confident I won’t be needing it that I haven’t cleaned it of its five layers of paint from our old house. Heck, I haven’t even made room in the freezer–how’s that for cocky? Ian assures me that just by him, a native New Orleanian, being in the same kitchen (he was absent during my first attempt) that I can’t fail this time.
So here we go. Turn up the music, brew some chicory coffee, and let’s make pralines.
What you’ll need:
pinch of salt
3/4 cup each brown and white sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup halved pecans
a candy thermometer
and a cookie sheet lined with wax paper
1. In a good, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add sugars, salt and milk.
2. Heat on low/medium heat and stir constantly, the mixture will turn the color of caramel
3. Bring to boil and insert candy thermometer (continue stirring) and let temp. hit around 235 degrees. At that point, take off heat.
4. Add vanilla, butter and pecans and blend gently
5. Drop onto wax paper, let cool
6. Once cooled, they should have a slight shine and peel easily off paper
7. And, lo! Pralines!
And how are they? Not too shabby for a second attempt. They taste close to the ones I used to get in New Orleans, though they are a tad on the gritty side (maybe I let the sugar get too hot? Or let it get too cool before dropping the syrup on the sheet?) and I might chop the pecans next time into quarters rather than halves so the syrup can flatten out more (I recall pralines being thinner than mine).
Not bad at all.
But I bet they’d be even better with a cafe au lait…
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