Southern Pecan Pralines

During the holidays, I always remember my mom, Renee, diligently making her pecan praline recipe for our family Christmas party or to give as gifts. She has been making this praline recipe since the early 1960s after she moved to New Orleans from Texas. I always wanted to make this treat myself, however I was often told how challenging pralines are to make. Knowing how long to cook the sugar mixture, being assiduous enough to stand over the stove stirring and stirring, and being ready to drop the praline mixture on wax paper when the time is right are all tricky when it comes to praline making. Even after all the warnings of the difficulties of this process, I decided to take on the challenge this holiday season and make me some pralines.

Louisiana Pralines evolved into what they are today because of the French settlers that brought their recipe to Louisiana. Clement Lassagne, chef of Marshal du Plessis-Praslin, a soldier, diplomat and industrialist, is said to be the creator of the fine confection known as pralines. It is rumored that Lassagne made these delectable treats for Praslin who would give the treats in a small bag with his name in it to the ladies he courted. The French originally made pralines by coating almonds in a caramelized sugar mixture. Almonds would be spread out onto a flat surface and then covered with the sugar. Over time, instead of just plucking out the sugar-coated nuts, the hard sugary part was left intact leaving a circular flat confection surrounding the almonds. When the French brought this recipe to Louisiana, the praline's popularity remained as sugarcane was readily available, however, with plentiful pecan trees, the almonds were replaced with pecans. New Orleans chefs added milk to the sugary recipe to give the pralines a creamier texture.

With all of my ingredients, cooking utensils, and wax paper covered surfaces ready to roll, I made the centuries-old French confection that I so loved growing up. With my mom's permission, here is her delicious Southern pecan praline recipe.

Renee's Pecan Pralines

3 1/2 cups sugar (granulated)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup evaporated milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups pecans
2 tsp pure vanilla extract


Lay paper towels or newspaper out on a large flat surface (kitchen counter). Lay out 24 inches of wax paper on top of the paper towels or newspaper. Butter or spray the wax paper with cooking spray.

In a large, heavy pot combine the sugars, salt, milk and butter over medium heat stirring constantly. Cook and stir for 5 minutes and then add the pecans and vanilla extract. Continue cooking and stirring for about 15-20 minutes until soft balls form when you put a small drop of the mixture into cold water. You know it is ready when the little ball that forms in the cold water does not disintegrate when touched but is well formed like candy and flattens between your fingertips. Remove from heat, and stir to cream the mixture. With a spoon or ice cream scooper, spoon out small amounts of the praline mixture and drop on the wax paper. If the mixture is too thin, then cook longer. If it is too thick then add a few drops of milk and stir well. If it gets too thick then the pralines will lose their shine and just become dull and sugary. Give each praline enough room to spread out. Leave the pralines to dry and harden on the wax paper for about 30 minutes. Never double this recipe.

For my first praline-making e
xperience, I have to say it went pretty well overall. My sugar mixture stiffened a bit too much towards the end while I was scooping onto the wax paper. Instead of adding a bit of milk like my mom suggested, I grew impatient and just tried to finish. For my second batch, I realized that patience is key. If you have to go back, add more milk and stir for the best outcome, then that is what you must do. This recipe is not as challenging as I imagined, it just takes a little patience and a little time but the end result is so worth it. The pralines are delicate, each bite is sugary-buttery sweet with notes of vanilla and a sweet, nutty flavor from the pecans with an overall creaminess.

For the holidays, I usually make some kind of simple, edible treat like fudge or cookies but this year I thought I would share this Southern delight with my friends and family in Philadelphia. Being that pralines aren't easily found outside of the South, and that most of my family here in Philadelphia probably has never tasted a praline, I am hoping they will enjoy this unique Christmas confection. I challenge you to make something that you never thought you would or could make and share it with your friends and family. Great family recipes are meant to be shared, so start a collection of your own. Ask your mom, dad, aunts, uncles and friends for some of their family recipes. Write down the recipes and who gave it to you, and put these in a recipe card box. One day you will be so thankful that you have your family's recipes to pass down to your children like a little piece of your family's history.

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