Pralines are an iconic treat, and depending on from where you hail, there are certainly people very passionate about the pronunciation and the exact attributes of the sugary lump. But, all of the ballyhoo aside, they are simply a wonderful thing to make and an even better thing to eat.
I usually try not to mess with a classic. Texas cookbooks cover the topic of the traditional praline very well. Robb Walsh has a great recipe in Texas Eats. Lisa Fain has a terrific one in The Homesick Texan Cookbook. Your mother probably has six handwritten versions in her old wooden decoupage recipe box. Mine does. Here it is a hard-to-pass-up event at the end of any Tex-Mex restaurant feast. They are simply simple and even a bit elegant, I think. They have an irresistible caramel hue and they are the just right frame for a little pile of meaty Texas pecans.
But, I’m new to making them. So, I set about figuring it out and it turns out there is not much to figure. Like all classics, the recipes only vary a bit here and there. Some use corn syrup and some do not. Some use buttermilk and some use cream. Some begin with the pecans in the mix and some add them at the end. But, essentially they are all in the same neighborhood. A very tasty neighborhood. I added my own little twist in the totally optional, but highly recommended, addition of Maldon salt and toasted coconut. You may be offended at the notion of trifling with such a classic. But I’m here to tell you, it is worth it.
Things to consider before starting. The yield is completely dependent on how large you make the pralines. The magic is in the temperature of the sugar lava. Some stop in the 230’s. Some go all the way up to 245 degrees. But once the pot is bubbling, it needs your full attention. So, get everything ready to go, including the two spoons you will use to scoop and scrape. Toast your pecans and coconut, if you are using them, before you start. Lay out your wax paper on the counter (must be a heat resistant surface). Pour your vanilla into a tiny bowl and get ready to stir. And here is a great tip. If you have a stubby little instant read thermometer as I do, slip it through a slotted spoon and hold the spoon over the boiling candy. It will save you some pain.
|Pralines with Sea Salt and Toasted Coconut|| |
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons corn syrup
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 2 cups toasted pecans
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons chunky sea salt (like Maldon)
- ¾ cup toasted sweetened coconut
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lay two sheets of waxed paper and two spoons on the counter-top. Toast the pecans by spreading them on a cookie sheet and baking them for seven minutes. Toast the coconut separately by spreading it out on a cookie sheet and baking for 8 minutes, turning the coconut several times with a spatula to redistribute and keep it from burning. Nearby, set aside the pecans and coconut to cool.
- In a medium saucepan (at least 8 inches across the bottom and at least 6 inches high on the sides), combine the sugars, butter, corn syrup and buttermilk. Turn the heat to medium and stir until the mixture becomes wet. Thereafter, stir every two to three minutes, scraping the bottom and edges of the pan to ensure that the sugar doesn’t burn. Allow the mixture to cook until it becomes bubbly. The bubbling will begin at about 13 minutes. Take care that the heat is not so high so as to cause the candy to bubble over. Be very cautious. The liquid is dangerously hot. Continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer indicates 240 degrees. This can take up to thirty minutes from start to finish. Turn off the heat and add the pecans and vanilla and stir to combine. Return the pan to the heat and continue to cook until the liquid returns to 240 degrees. Remove the pan from the heat. With a long wooden spoon, begin to stir the mixture quickly until it thickens and turns opaque. Stir for approximately 4 minutes. It will go from looking translucent to looking like melted chocolate. At this point you will begin to see the mixture thicken considerably. Do not let it get to thick before stopping.
- Very quickly, begin to drop the praline mixture onto the wax paper. Each praline will have six or so pecans and about 2 tablespoons of candy as a general guide. Keep moving until you have distributed all of the candy. Depending on how quickly the candy is hardening, you will now need to sprinkle a little salt on each praline. Then sprinkle coconut onto the pralines. You might want to prepare half the pralines with coconut and half without.
- Allow the pralines to cool completely. This could take anywhere from one hour to four hours, and is quite weather dependent. When they have cooled, you can carefully peel the candy off of the wax paper and transfer them to a serving dish.
Note: Candy is finicky. Weather truly affects the outcome. Humidity and rain can create a completely different batch of pralines that take hours to harden. On a dry day, you are playing beat the clock to get them onto the wax paper before they harden. A good candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer is absolutely necessary unless you are over the age of 65 and actually know how to do all the soft-ball/hard-ball stuff. Stir, take it to the right temperature, add pecans and vanilla, take it back to temperature, remove from heat, stir like the dickens, spoon it out onto wax paper. No problem. A smart cook will enlist the help of a friend who can follow behind and sprinkle salt, or tip the hot pot to help get out all of the candy before it hardens. I almost went too slowly on this batch and they hardened very quickly. The problem with this is that if the surface hardens too quickly, the salt will not adhere to the surface. If you end up in this situation, press the salt lightly onto the praline…it is still sticky on the inside for a bit longer, and this will cause the salt to stick to the top.