If you’ve visited any great southern cities, particularly coastal cities such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans – chances are you’ve been drawn into a Praline Shop. We southerners call this sweet confection – Praw-leens, we’ll know right away you aren’t from the south if you call them Pray-leens. Since we’ve gotten the correct pronunciation out of the way, let me just say, however you pronounce Pralines, you will either love them or say- they’re too sweet! Eat enough pralines in your lifetime and you will become a praline critic- I complain that some pralines are too grainy- the sugar isn’t smooth enough or sometimes the pecans aren’t toasted enough to suit me. Yet even as I criticize- I will stand there and eat a praline until all of the sugary morsel is gone… Every. Single. Time. Why is the South so famous for Pralines?
- We seem to have a corner on the market of the famous pecan candy.
- The infamous Southern Sweet Tooth is on full display in that little patty of a praline.
- The South grows an abundance of Sugar Cane and we do love our homegrown Pecans.
Still. Food historians tell us that pralines have been made for 100’s of years in the South- getting their start in New Orleans. According to John Egerton’s tome, called Southern Food– he quotes the Picayune Creole Cookbook written in 1901- Pralines are, ‘dainty and delightful confections that have, for upwards of 150 years, delighted…generations of New Orleans…’ Wait a minute! In 1901 they were saying Pralines had been made for 150 years? Crazy, now it’s over 250 years! Egerton goes on to explain that a French diplomat named Cesar du Plessis-Praslin gave his name to a confection of ‘caramelized almonds and sugar’. Could we pause a minute.. I need to say a prayer of praise- ‘Lord, I’m thankful those Creoles swapped out toasted pecans for the almonds!’ Okay, let’s resume… I want to use my best words to describe pralines-
They are small puddles of caramelized sugar, rich with real butter and thick cream stirred in great copper vats. The fragrance of pralines spills out of candy shops onto sidewalks luring tourists As they watch confectioners with wooden paddles stir the roiling hot sugar to perfection before adding vanilla and exquisitely toasted pecans. On cobbled streets and sidewalks-folks watch in amazement as the hot sugary mass is carefully poured into small patties which become the delectable mass of Southern sweetness, we call Pralines.
Alabama isn’t widely known for her pralines- the sweet confections of my youth spun sugar more often into Divinity, Peanut Brittle or a plate of Chocolate Fudge; all of which depended on the weather for success. Humidity is the enemy of granulated sugar in cooked candies. Sugar will do weird things like turn grainy or stiff or sit there and sulk- weeping. I know this to be true- I’ve rarely found a perfect day and have made enough mistakes to throw out whole batches of candy that weren’t fit to eat. Recently, I found, a yellowed and fragile newspaper clipping with a recipe for Alabama Pralines stuck in my grandmother’s cookbook. I don’t recall that she ever made them. Perhaps she was unskilled at candy making…though she did revel in making a white mass of sugar studded with pecans into Divinity- only on a crisp, cool and dry day sometime before Christmas. I recall Mimi saying-
‘Edna Earle brought her divinity. It was hard as a rock- I almost broke a tooth trying to eat a piece! You’d think she’d at least check the barometric pressure before she tried to make divinity!’
Will you allow me to go off on a short tangent? I didn’t have a soft cuddly grandmother…no, she was funny, opinionated, had high standards and might have been the best cook I’ve ever known. The women’s rights movement in the 1960’s never made much of an impression on Mimi. Why? She’d always been in charge of the men in her life. Mimi was a spicy Southern Spitfire. Still. To find an unmarked recipe for Alabama Pralines in my grandmother’s cookbook intrigued me. I’ll admit I’m no stranger to making candy-
Toffee and Caramel are two successful favorites…I’ve rarely attempted making Divinity, for fear it might turn out like poor Edna Earles. I’ve tried making pralines a time or two and failed. Anyway, when I decided to make these Alabama Pralines, it was on the absolute worst day for making candy. It was hot and humid- dark clouds threatened rain. I thought this recipe would surely fail. I made them because of one change from the other recipes I’d tried… the Alabama Praline recipe doesn’t call for granulated sugar! Okay, my sweet tooth had flared up too. It didn’t hurt that I had all of the ingredients and a bit of free time. I am happy to report- the recipe for Alabama Pralines not only worked but as most real deal recipes will tell you- pralines can be stored in the freezer. Now, that’s important because faced with a dozen glorious pralines? Let’s just say- they need to be frozen for health and safety concerns! I know you’ll want to make a batch of-
- Toast 3/4 chopped pecans and salt. *Here’s how I do it. Put the pecans on a small baking sheet in a single layer- don’t be shy with the salt. Place the salted pecans in a cold oven, setting the temperature to 350 degrees- when the oven has reached 350 degrees- the pecans are toasted perfectly! Set aside and cool. Meanwhile…
- Over low heat- Melt one stick of Butter- no substitutes and
- 1/3 cup of light brown sugar- packed.
- Cook butter and brown sugar over low heat for 3 minutes- stirring constantly
- Gradually add 2-3 Tablespoons of Half and Half- (you may substitute evaporated milk or heavy cream) Please don’t add milk to the hot sugar and butter mixture all at once lest it bubble up too much! Now-
- Still on low heat, bring the butter/ brown sugar/ milk mixture up to a boil.
- Remove from heat- add 1 Teaspoon of Pure Vanilla Extract stirring completely
- Add 1 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar-( I had to add another 1/3 cup to my mixture- this could account for the humidity of the day) Beat confectioner’s sugar in well. If the mixture is too thick, you may add a tiny bit more milk
- Add salted toasted pecans. Stir in well.
- Drop from heaping tablespoon into glorious puddles on a cookie sheet lined with silicone mat or wax paper until cool.
- Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper. Yield – one dozen. *When cooled and wrapped the pralines may be stored in the freezer in an airtight container.
Oh my, I hope you’ll try these Alabama Pralines. I would not double the recipe since candy making is a science and the cooking time may vary to get the right consistency. This recipe’s use of confectioner sugar- created a smooth praline-there was no graininess at all, the toasted and salted pecans offered a welcome relief to the oh so sweet praline mixture. Best of all- no huge copper kettle or wooden paddle required! Amazingly, the original recipe also says you can pour the praline mixture into a buttered glass baking dish, cool then cut into squares like fudge! I didn’t try that, I wanted to see if I could actually pull off the dropping into buttery puddles!
I hope you’ll try making a few batches of Alabama Pralines…apparently they remain fresh in the freezer for 6-8 months. Why, if you make them now… Alabama Pralines can be your effort toward Christmas in July! I’m guessing mine won’t last that long! Oh me…
Love y’all, Camellia
* Crushed pralines are a wonderful topping for ice cream.
*John Egerton, a southern food expert, in his landmark work- ‘Southern Food’ subtitled ‘at Home, on the Road, in History’ (copyright 1987) is one of my all time treasured books, find his remarks about Pralines on page 325.
*All photographs are obviously mine