At the end of a day of high-volume cookie baking this weekend with friends, one of them stuck her ex-boyfriend's praline recipe on the wall above the stove and proceeded to show me how it's done. The recipe was from Southern Living, 1959. First of all, I love the ingredients: sugar, baking soda, light cream, butter, and pecans—there's no corn syrup crutch (so many praline recipes call for a whole cup of the stuff, which makes the praline mixture—note I did not say pralines, because what I've made in the past would not be recognized as such anywhere south of I-60—it makes it taste not so much like sugar as like corn syrup). Second, the recipe contained one vital piece of information other recipes I've tried did not: if the damn candy mixture starts to harden before you've hurriedly gotten it all scooped out of the pot, just add a tablespoon of hot water and keep going. Genius! Third, and most important, the pralines taste wonderful and have a creamy, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
After seeing it done on Saturday I decided to try it all by myself on Sunday. Success:
From Southern Living, via my friend Regan
2 cups sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup light cream or evaporated milk
1½ tablespoons butter
2 cups pecan halves
- Get everything ready in advance: Put a cup of cold water in the freezer for the cold water tests, lay out a big sheet of waxed paper or parchment right next to the stovetop, measure the butter and pecans and have them next to the stove.
- Combine the sugar and soda in a deep 3-quart saucepan [4-quart worked fine]. Mix well with a wooden spoon, then add the cream. Stir carefully to keep the sugar crystals in the bottom part of the pan [Not sure what this means]. All the crystals should be dissolved before the mixture boils—this helps make it smooth and creamy.
- Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally [I'd say frequently] to prevent scorching [I stirred up little browned bits from the bottom and sides, and was worried, but it all evened out toward the end]. When the mixture starts to boil, it bubbles high in the pan, so reduce the heat and continue stirring to keep it from boiling over. Cook to about 234 degrees F., until candy forms a soft ball when tested in cold water [I pulled my pot off the heat at 230 or even a bit lower, trusting the color and the soft ball test more than the thermometer]. Test several times; read the thermometer while candy boils, but remove the pan from the heat during the water test so it won’t overcook.
- Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the butter. Measure accurately—too much butter may keep the pralines from firming up. Add the pecans and beat until thick enough to drop from a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes [I beat for less time; don't let it thicken too much; it'll thicken as it drops from the spoon]. Candy thickens rapidly with beating.
- Drop candies onto waxed paper. Add 1 tablespoon hot water if necessary to keep the candy at the right stage for dropping from the spoon.