Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A New Orleans State of Mind

If the post about beignets didn't do it, then this surely will.  I write today of the sweet and nutty confection sold in every New Orleans gift shop and the majority of truck stop convenience stores.  I speak of the praline.  And, in case you were wondering, you really should say prah-leen, not pray-leen.  Really.  You don't want to scream "tourist," do you?

Pralines have been around in Louisiana for over two hundred years.  They were born of French and Belgian candy-making techniques and the prevalence of pecans in New Orleans and the surrounding area.  (You can read a more thorough history of the praline here.)

As far as candy making goes, pralines are pretty simple, both in technique and ingredients.  My recipe of choice hails from the River Road cookbook, a publication of the Baton Rouge Junior League back in the day (1950s, perhaps?) that has gained massive popularity through the years.  I think my copy, a gift from a neighbor when I was in high school, was one of the first printings. 

One of my favorite parts of this particular book is that I know which recipes were my friend's favorites based on the pages that show the most battle scars.

Since you aren't blessed with such a treasure, I'll share the recipe with you...

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1 cup cream
3 cups pecans

Combine sugars, water, and cream in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer reads 238 degrees. 

Remove from heat, add pecans.   

Stir vigorously until mixture begins to thicken and lighten in color.  Drop by teaspoon or tablespooonfuls onto waxed or parchment paper and allow to set.

Literate Baker notes:  I toast the pecans for about 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven ahead of time.  I add 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and a good pinch of salt when I add the pecans.

These babies make a great gift, a wonderful addition to a cookie tray, and will easily keep in a sealed container for a couple of months.  The sweetness is truly balanced by the massive amount of pecans in them and the heavy cream gives them a wonderful texture.

I'd recommend a French Quarter vacation to just about anyone.  If you can't make that happen, bring a little of the French Quarter to you.  Pralines are a whole lot easier than crawfish etoufee and will most definitely...

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