The famous praline recipe from the New Orleans School of Cooking, begged-and-borrowed from our friend Charlie but made "forever mine" by switching from vanilla to bourbon flavoring. The bourbon is a southern touch that just seems right. Another thing that seems "just right" during this busy holiday season? Making five dozen cookies (not cookies, really, candy, but still) in 35 minutes with just six pantry ingredients and no baking.
Our friend Charlie brought a plate of pralines to a Mardi Gras party awhile back. When he headed out the door, people asked in dismay, “Oh no! Did the praline guy take his pralines with him?”
Months later, friends were still talking about those pralines of Charlie’s so I
begged bugged him for the recipe. He’s usually most forthcoming but this time, not!
Desperate people resort to desperate measures.
So I imported a secret weapon from Canada, my cousin Lynda who came down from Toronto when we put on a big party in the country in November. Charlie and his wife Jan brought along another plate of pralines. When I saw it on the buffet table, I clutched it to my chest (not literally, go with the story here …) and enlisted Lynda to pry the promise of a recipe from Charlie. She was successful. Persuasive, those Canadians.
Turns out, Charlie’s Pralines have good provenance! His sister gave him her recipe but she got it from what’s perhaps the most famous praline recipe there is, the one from the New Orleans School of Cooking. I couldn’t wait to make them!
So when we put together a small holiday dessert tasting this month (anyone noticing a party theme here?), I pulled out the butter and sugar and made my first-ever batch of pralines.
But oops, I accidentally skipped the cooling step and spooned the mixture into rounds onto a silicone mat without waiting for the mixture to cloud up a little. Because of that, I did sweat it there for awhile, because it took about 12 hours for my pralines to firm up properly. Oh me of little faith, after only an hour I balled up about a dozen pralines I was sure would never firm up. All I needed was patience they would have, in fact, they did.
But happy accident? I ground up those few pralines and they are the basis for the one dessert that stole the show at that December dessert party. I’ll share that recipe before New Years! It’s a show-stopper but get this, adds up to only 154 calories and 4 Weight Watchers points!
So yes, I know, the recipe originated with the New Orleans School of Cooking but in my mind, I'll always think of these pralines as “Charlie’s Pralines”.
(aka “CHARLIE’S PRALINES”)
Time to table: 12 hours
Makes 60 small cookie-size candies
- 1-1/2 cups (315g) sugar
- 3/4 cup (130g) brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (110g) whole milk
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) salted butter
- 1-1/2 cups (155g) pecan pieces, toasted
- 1 teaspoon bourbon (my very very favorite) or vanilla
Combine all ingredients in a heavy four-quart pot. Place on medium to medium-high heat and cook, stirring often at first and continuously as it begins to thicken and smooth out or until the mixture reaches the “soft ball” candy stage, that’s 238F-240F.
Pull the pot off the heat and let the mixture cool, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken just a tad and the pecan pieces rise to the top. (Note: The New Orleans School of Cooking says to "stir, stir, stir" during this step, until the sugar begins to feel thick and grainy against the spoon and the pot. Two times, I just stirred a bit and the pralines turned out fine.)
Using a tablespoon, spoon about a half-tablespoon’s worth onto wax paper or a silicone mat, using the spoon to distribute the pecans and collect the pralines into neat rounds. Let rest until very firm, several hours or overnight.
Gently remove and store in an airtight container in single layers separated by waxed paper.
Pralines may be made a day or so ahead or made a week or so ahead and frozen.
Bourbon Pralines may "look" like cookies but they're really candy, cooked on the stovetop with just a few pantry ingredients. They're as easy as can be to make!
Checking for the "Soft-Ball Stage" Without a Thermometer
Once you think the hot syrup has maybe reached the "soft ball" stage, smear a bit of it against the side of a glass measuring cup filled with cold water. If it sticks? It's reached the soft ball stage.
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