Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cécile's Pralines

Trying out this whole candy making thing again...

You all know I've got quite the sweet tooth. The ratio of desserts to every other kind of food on this blog is frankly a little embarrassing. But candy making definitely isn't my favorite thing to try my hand at. It's tricky, and I don't do it often enough to have a good eye or instinctive feel for it. Plus, it's usually really messy!

But these historic treats were just too tempting to pass up. They sounded easy enough too: caramel, pecans, that's not so bad, right?

Well, not exactly. Now that I know what to expect, I think round two might go better. Round one did get a little messy... 

Pralines are a dessert with a long history. They're also one of Cécile's favorite treats! She looks forward to buying them from her favorite candy shop in Meet Cécile and shares some with Marie-Grace in Marie-Grace and the Orphans. She's certainly not alone in loving them: the first praline I ever had came from the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, gifted to me by my parents after they visited the library with my sister. They were one of Johnson's favorite snacks, too!

But well before Cécile or President Johnson snacked on this tasty combo of caramel and pecans, people were enjoying the ancestor of the American praline. Pralines are originally from France, and are still enjoyed there today. French pralines are a lot crunchier than American pralines, and are made with almonds and caramelized sugar.

When French settlers came to Louisiana, they swapped out the almonds for pecans, as they were more abundantly available and then added milk to make the candy chewier. The first people to make this change were African American chefs, and African American women would often work as street vendors selling them. Much like Addy's ice cream maker has a strong connection to both Black and women's history in America that's never explicitly referenced in her stories or other material, I wonder if it was an intentional choice on the part of American Girl to have Cécile be so fond of a dessert that's linked to this part of history.

It doesn't take much to make an American praline, and having successfully made caramel before, I figured I had a good shot at not wrecking these too badly. The recipe I used comes from The Kitchn, and can be accessed on their website. Their photos looked a lot like the praline I'd gotten from the LBJ library, and as they'd had the opportunity to take a praline making class in New Orleans, it definitely looked like they knew what they were talking about.

Since this is a candy that hardens quickly, they recommend preparing a baking sheet with parchment paper or something similar and keeping at least one spoon nearby so you're ready to scoop once the candy's cooked. This is definitely a good tip, as we're about to discover. You really don't have time to dilly dally once you get started.

I rough chopped 1 1/2 cups of pecans and toasted them in the oven and then added them to a large pan (this is important!) with all of the other ingredients: 6 tablespoons of butter, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 3/4 of a cup of brown sugar, 1/2 of a cup of milk, and one teaspoon of vanilla. I like recipes where I just dump everything in all at once. Saves a lot of time!

This gets cooked over medium high heat and only gets stirred occasionally until it starts to boil. Once it does, you need to stir it constantly to make sure it doesn't burn. And I mean constantly. You're ready to move onto the next step when your candy thermometer gets somewhere between 238 and 240 degrees. The recipe says this should take about three minutes, but I think mine took longer than that. Just trust your thermometer!

Once it hits that magic heat, you take it off and keep stirring. The recipe advises that once you start feeling it get grainy, you're ready to start scooping out your pralines onto your baking mat. You can make your pralines as large or as small as you want, and I just used basic dinner spoons to shape mine.

This is when things started to fall apart. I actually struggle with pretty bad carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, so repetitive wrist motions - like constantly stirring candy - start to really, really hurt after a while, and I had to stop. My mom and I swapped out, but because I needed to get the gloves off and give them to her, we stopped stirring for just long enough for the candy to start really crystallizing.

Which meant we got a couple pralines that didn't look too bad...

And most of them wound up grainy, falling apart, and kinda "praline" in name and basic components only...

Still, we got a couple that looked decent enough to photograph!

Those look a little big for you, Cochon...

You're supposed to wait about ten minutes before eating them, as this gives them time to cool down and harden up so you don't burn yourself or have your treat crumble in your hands. That said, depending on how they're made, these can still be crumbly, even if you buy them commercially packaged!

I was kind of disappointed mine fell apart on me, but even though most of them were crumbly and difficult to eat like a traditional praline, they were really, really tasty. We decided to use most of the really destroyed pralines as an ice cream topping, and it was a big hit with our audience, one of whom was quoted as saying "get them away from me!" after enjoying a bowl of ice cream with the praline topping and then going back for more. It turns out that this is actually a really common ice cream flavor around the country, and while I've never seen it in a shop before, I can definitely see why!

Overall, even though this would have gotten me chopped on any praline making competition, I had a good time making it and enjoyed the fruits of my labor. I'd actually even be willing to give this another try - The Kitchn's recipe is very, very user friendly and has a lot of good tips and advice about how to make the perfect praline. Now that I know what not to do, maybe my next batch will come out better! I'd definitely recommend giving these a shot yourself. They're a great taste of history that's made in one pot, and tastes just as good on ice cream as they do on their own.

Now we just need to make sure Cochon doesn't run off with any of these!


  1. Now I want butter pecan ice cream. I also love the Pralines in New Orleans--Aunt Sallies, I believe the company is. Delicious! I should order more of them.

    1. I will have to give them a try! I'd definitely like to have more of them, haha.

  2. Those look good even if they did end up more crumbly than you'd have liked.

    When I was in New Orleans in December my mother went on the quest for the perfect praline (that sounds more fun than it actually was); I think we went into at least 20 shops, and most of those professional ones were crumbly too.

    1. Oh no, that definitely sounds more fun before twenty shops got mentioned, haha. Hope she found something tasty anyway!

  3. Mmmm yes love butter pecan ice cream. My mouth is watering!

    1. After hearing the positive feedback from you guys, I might have to give this a try finally.

  4. Praline as ice cream topping? I'm intrigued. I stirred the crumbles of my vegan pralines into tea as a sweetener. Stuff got grainy towards the bottom of the cup, but I didn't mind nut and coconut bits.

    1. Oh I totally hadn't thought of that! I might have to give that a try next time. Thanks for the tip. :D

  5. Pralines and cream is my favorite flavor at Baskin Robbins!

    1. Obviously I need to try this out! :D