Pralines are a delectable piece of New Orleans culinary history, and there are about as many recipes for them as there are ways for a New Orleans native to smile. And smile you will, when you get a bite of one of these. I’ve tried to emphasize the pecans in this recipe, and to darken the candy just a bit, resulting in a rich, nutty, confection that will leave your eyes rolling. Enjoy with a measure of bourbon if you wish.
A quick note for those of you who haven’t done much candy before: Just after the mixture reaches 200º, it will start to boil, and what happens during the boiling is that the water evaporates from the mixture, increasing the concentration of sugar and raising the boiling point. It may seem like it takes forever for the thermometer to show an increase when you get to around 210º, but watch out! As the sugar concentration reaches 80% (around 230º), the evaporation (and the increase in temperature) accelerates, so while it might take a long time for the temperature to rise from 220º to 230º, it takes only the blink of an eye to go from 230º to 238º. So keep a close eye on the thermometer, especially during the final stages of the cooking, and don’t even think of leaving the kitchen. BTW, the official “soft-ball” candy range is 235º-240º. Some praline recipes call for you to end the cooking at 236º, but I like to take it to 238º, because I like the slightly firmer texture this allows. IMHO, it’s the perfect balance between fudge & brittle that makes a good praline.
Bourbon Street Pralines
makes about 2 dozen
4 cups pecan halves
3 cups white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons butter, cut into 7 pieces
2 teaspoons bourbon
Toast pecan halves in single layer on cookie sheet for 5 minutes in 400º oven. Line 2 half-sheet pans (or other large baking sheets) with wax paper. Combine sugars, buttermilk, and baking soda in large, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir over medium-low heat until temperature reaches 150º, then add butter and continue to stir. When mixture reaches 200º, stop stirring and cook mixture until temperature reaches 238º. Remove from heat, stir in pecans and bourbon, and continue to stir for 90 seconds. Spoon mixture into pralines on lined pans; aim for about 5 pecan halves per praline. Cool for 45 minutes. Pralines should be eaten within a few days; you can store them in a covered container separated by sheets of wax paper.