New Orleans Recipe: Pralines
Story and photo By Nola Beldegreen
I was first introduced to the praline in elementary school. My classmate had returned from New Orleans and shared a box of these sweets. We were told that the “prah‐leens” were made of “pe‐cahns” and were handcrafted from butter, sugar, milk and pecans. Each translucent wrapper held a thin, creamy sugary wafer that was laden with the flavor of warm roasted pecans. The praline had a sweet sugary crispness yet was smooth at the same time. My fondness for pralines began at that moment.
This easy-to-prepare treat is as rich in history as it is in flavor. The name “Praline” is linked to a chef who worked for the French Diplomat Marechal du Plessis‐Praslin; the chef in 17th-century France coated the almonds in cooked sugar and offered them as a treat and a digestive aid. The confections subsequently made their way to Louisiana, where the Southern pecan replaced the almond. Since then, it has become a New Orleans staple, evolving with a variety of flavors, such as sweet potato, rum and even chocolate.
Pralines are relatively easy to make. If you roast the pecans, they can be stored in an airtight container for two weeks. Vanilla ice cream can become praline ice cream simply by adding crumbled pieces. The traditional praline is a little over three inches in diameter. Should you drop the mix by the teaspoon, your pralines will be smaller and there will be more to a batch. These miniature discs can also make for beautiful decorations when placed on top of frosted cupcakes.
New Orleans’ French Quarter is a praline mecca. They can be purchased at numerous shops, many of which make them in plain view and offer samples to visitors. They make great gifts and...even have health benefits. Dr. Oz, health expert and host of The Dr. Oz Show, has noted that pecans are high in antioxidants.
Here’s a recipe that is simple to prepare and delicious (thanks to The New Orleans School of Cooking):
Makes 1- 50 pralines depending on size.
1 ½ C. sugar
6 Tbsp. butter (3/4 stick)
¾ C. light brown sugar, packed
1 ½ C. pecans (roasted optional)
½ C. milk
1 Tsp. vanilla
1. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a “softball stage”* (238-240 degrees), stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
2. Stir until mixture thickens, becomes creamy and cloudy, and pecans stay suspended in mixture.
3. Spoon out on buttered waxed paper, aluminum foil or parchment paper. When using waxed paper, be sure to buffer with newspaper underneath, as hot wax will transfer to whatever is beneath.
NOTE: To roast pecans, bake them on a sheet pan at 275 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until slightly browned and fragrant.
* When you place a spoonful into a glass of water it sticks to the side.