For any Southerner with their noggin screwed on right, love for sugar, butter, and pecans runs as deep as the mighty Mississippi. And when you combine those blessed ingredients and allow them to puddle into sticky sweet mounds? Well, that love, the love for pralines, is the stuff of sonnets.
Pralines may have been born in the kitchens of France, but they were raised on the streets of New Orleans. So it’s no coincidence that my first bite, like many of yours, was devoured in the Crescent City. It was the summer after Hurricane Katrina, and while the city was slowly rebuilding, the French Quarter had the energy everyone promised, teeming with the soul and mystery you can only discover for yourself. And the golden candies I just had to try were at once totally new and completely familiar.
Like any good Southern delicacy, pralines have a rich history, steeped in tradition. Originally made with almonds and used as a digestive, pralines were given new life by Creoles, who traded almonds for the readily available pecans and added just a touch (and a pinch and a smidge) more sugar. Debutantes in gowns and gloves would nibble on the sweets after coming out to society, just as vendors would peddle them on the streets around Jackson Square to the crowds surrounding brass musicians and soft shoe tappers. Today, candymakers celebrate and carry on the tradition by adhering to pralines’ simple and delicious roots. And looking to the future, chefs weave the classic flavors into their dishes in playful and unexpected ways.
It doesn’t take much to make pralines, just a handful of ingredients, a steady stirring arm, and a bit of patience. Depending on whom you ask, the only way to make them is with brown sugar instead of white, or don’t you dare forget to add a little buttermilk or baking soda. I’ve found, through extensive and happily obliged research, that the best results come when you use a mix of brown and white sugars, limit stirring once ingredients are in the pot, and store your finished confections in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week, if you’re lucky enough to have them last that long.
And if things don’t work out quite as planned, take a tip from residents of the Big Easy. Don’t fret over clusters of white crystals decorating the tops of your pralines. Everyone will know they were homemade. If the texture comes out a bit too dry or a tad too sticky, save them for dressing up another dessert. Because, after all, we Southerners will take sugar, butter, and pecans just about any way we can get them.
So fire up your stovetop, pull out your parchment paper, crack open some pecans, and try out a few of our favorite praline recipes!
- Traditional Pralines
- Praline Custards with Pecan-Crackle Topping
- Pecan Sandie Praline Bars
- Praline Bread Pudding with Caramel-Pecan Drizzle
Quick Tips for Perfect Pralines
• Never make pralines on a rainy or cloudy day. Humidity is not their friend.
• Use a mix of brown and white sugars.
• Don’t cook pralines at a very high temperature, and limit stirring once ingredients are in the pot.
• Store your finished pralines in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week.