I vividly remember the first time that I ever tried a praline. At that time, I had heard of pralines, but I didn't really know what they were as I had lived in New Jersey for most of my life--not really a hot spot for praline producers. My family had recently moved to Texas, and we were leaving a restaurant after having dinner there. On the way out, in a bowl which typically contains those nondescript mints wrapped in plastic, there were some little caramel colored pecan confections in individual paper holders. I took one and popped it in my mouth. A few seconds later I was back at the bowl, taking a few more for the road. If the hostess hadn't been standing there, I might have taken them all. They were buttery, creamy, nutty, and slightly salty, and they just melted in my mouth. You don't expect the item that you eat on your way out the door to be the most memorable part of your dining experience, but I haven't a clue what I ate for my entree that night.
The first time that I tried to make pralines at home, it was such a relief to discover that they were much easier than I thought they would be. Because they are a candy, which means that you are dealing with candy thermometers and exact temperatures, I expected my first few attempts to be less than stellar. My first batch turned out to be delicious--I know because I'm pretty sure I ate most of them. This recipe is fairly quick and easy, and these pralines would be great to put in a decorative holiday bag or box, tie with a ribbon, and give out as a homemade gift. That is, if you don't eat them all first! Here are my comments for the pralines:
- The pralines will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.
- I like to add a teaspoon of orange zest for a slightly different flavor. I might as well take this opportunity to plug the Microplane. This is one of my top 5 favorite kitchen tools. I love to add orange and lemon zest to recipes for the added flavor, and the Microplane makes zesting so easy. It's also great for grating cheese, ginger, and chocolate.
- Instead of vanilla, you can add rum, Grand Marnier, or bourbon to the recipe for an extra "kick."
- It is very important that you have all of your ingredients measured out and ready and your baking sheets oiled or lined prior to starting this recipe. When making candy, you often need to move fairly quickly at certain points in the recipe, so there is not time to stop and measure, chop, etc.
- I sometimes use the finished pralines as ingredients in other recipes. I have chopped them up and added them to plain scone dough to make Pecan Praline Scones, mixed them into cake batter, and folded them into softened ice cream.
Makes 30-40 pieces
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
4 tablespoons butter, cubed
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
2 ½ cups pecan halves
Have ready 2 large baking sheets, either oiled or lined with parchment paper. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, cream, salt, and the cream of tartar. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring and washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the side with a brush dipped in cold water, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil it undisturbed until a candy thermometer registers 238F degrees. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool until the candy thermometer registers 220F degrees. Stir in the butter and the vanilla. Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the mixture until creamy, and then stir in the pecan halves. Working quickly, drop the mixture by tablespoon onto the baking sheets and let the pralines cool. Remove the pralines carefully and store them, wrapped individually in waxed paper, in airtight containers in a cool place.