Saturday, December 22, 2007

Praise the pralines!

I come from a divided family. Yes, it’s true—half of us are Aggies and the other half are Longhorns. This makes for some interesting dynamics, especially on the occasion of the two teams’ annual scrimmage.

My family gathered at a Tex-Mex restaurant the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the date of the big game. The room was filled with people sporting the two teams’ colors of maroon (Aggies) and burnt orange (Longhorns). Our group leaned towards the latter, though my grandmother sitting at the head of the table shook her head at her progeny’s disloyalty to her beloved Aggies. There was much anticipation over who would win, and we ate our food quickly in order to be able to watch the kick-off. In order to keep the peace, however, we avoided talking much about the two teams, though occasionally slight tempers would rise if there was a bit too much boasting.

But there was one thing everyone saw eye to eye on: the excellence of my aunt Julie’s pralines.

Throughout my brief trip to Texas, I kept hearing nothing but high praise for Julie’s version of this beloved confection. “They’re the best praline I’ve ever eaten,” said my cousin Jessica, and both my grandmother and other aunts concurred. As we concluded our meal, Julie pulled out a bag of the candy for me to take back to New York and after one bite I had to agree—she does indeed make the best pralines.

While it’s now common to see tres leches cake, fried ice cream or crepes filled with cajeta or dulce de leche on a Mexican restaurant’s menu, when I was growing up, a Tex-Mex meal always concluded with only two options: sopapillas or pralines. I reckon you could say that the crisp, nutty praline was the yin to the pillowy, sticky sopapilla’s yang.

I always assumed pralines were from Mexico, but actually they’re French. Their origin is attributed to a seventeenth century sugar industrialist named Marshal du Plessis-Praslin, whose cook invented a candy made of melted sugar, cream and almonds. When the French arrived in Louisiana, they brought the recipe with them, but replaced almonds with the more widely available pecans. So as in Texas, Louisiana folk also have a fondness for pralines, though they pronounce it differently: where they say prah-leen, we say pray-leen.

It’s not quite clear how pralines made their way onto Tex-Mex menus, but as pecans were plentiful and the candy was inexpensive to make (its primary ingredients being just nuts and sugar), they soon became as Tex-Mex as chili gravy and nachos.

You don’t often see pralines here in New York City, and until Aunt Julie gave me her recipe, I had no idea how easy there are to make at home. There are two kinds of pralines most commonly found in Texas—the crisp and creamy ones I grew up with and the chewy ones you’re more likely to see today. I’m not too fond of caramels and super-sticky substances, so I’m more partial to the old-fashioned pralines where each bite shatters in your mouth, melting into a luscious, nutty sweetness.

I’m happy to say that Aunt Julie’s are the old-fashioned kind—crisp yet creamy. And it’s an old family recipe, of sorts, as she learned how to make them from her mother-in-law, Mrs. Jackson. They’re a cinch to make, and in under an hour you’ll have trays laden with these nutty candies perfect for sharing.

Pralines are, of course, welcome at any time, but there’s something about Christmas that makes these extra special as they make such a delicious gift or dessert. (Though now that I know how easy they are, I reckon I’ll be making them year round.) So go make some pralines—you’ll be happy that you did. And may you have a loving and joyful holiday filled with family and friends!

Mrs. Jackson’s Pralines
Ingredients:
2 cups of white sugar
2 cups of brown sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 cups pecans
1 heaping tablespoon of butter
2/3 c milk

Method:
1. Mix all ingredients very well in a cold pan.
2. Turn stove on medium high heat, and when mixture comes to a boil, cook & stir for four minutes. (If you use a candy thermometer, temperature should be 234F.)
3. Remove from heat.
4. Stir for about one minute or until mixture is not so glossy.
5. Spoon pralines onto trays lined with foil or parchment paper. Let cool for about 20 minutes and remove.
Note: The recipe calls for corn syrup and if you live in a part of the world where corn syrup isn’t sold, or just don’t want to cook with it, I have to say the recipe works equally well with Lyle’s Golden Syrup as a replacement for the corn syrup, used in equal measure. And here's another recipe from Julie of Kitchenography (not my aunt!) that calls for buttermilk.

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54 comments:

Kim West said...

Thank you so much for this recipe- I miss pralines!! I have been a transplanted Texan for almost 12 years (hubby is in the military) and I really enjoy reading your blog and getting "recipies from home". We live in Hawaii right now and good Tex-Mex is nowhere in sight! Yours will have to be as close as I can get.

Anonymous said...

I've just learned to make pralines and they are delicious. I'm glad to hear they're pronounced pray-leen rather than prah-leen where you're from. I thought I was mispronouncing the word but I couldn't bring myself to say prah-leen. It just sounds wrong coming from someone who's not from Louisiana. -Julie

Lunch Buckets said...

Pralines were one of my first successful attempts at candy making waaaaaay back when. Well, maybe my only, that divinity really never turned out right. I lost the recipe, and haven't made them in years. I think I'll give these a go tonight - thanks so much for posting!

Homesick Houstonian said...

weird. the pecan things i've seen and had at mexican restaurants are a far cry from the pralines i devour in NOLA and buy now and then at gas stations. Even weirder I wrote that in present tense, clearly i don't buy pralines at gas stations in nyc ;)The ones at tex mex places aren't even sweet, i hate them. They're like some weird marzipan praline grossness mix.

i didn't even know they were pralines until i read this. Unless there are two types of pecan candy at mexican restaurants...

which speaking of marzipan, i am partial to the candy with the rose on the wrapper, its the only one i can stand at a mexican restaurant.

i'm gtt next week! Have you been to merida on navigation???? boy i miss that place!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to believe you are part of the maroon contingent. Is it true? Could you possibly be? I hope so! I already like you and I will like you so much more!

kimberly said...

Oh, those pralines look perfect! I won't eat the chewy ones; I love those that shatter when you bite into them.

I come from a similarly divided Texas family, and am part of the orange side. I'm GTT on Monday -- looking forward to tamales and barbecue and southern home cooking.

Lydia said...

I always thought pralines were difficult to make, but you're right, this recipe looks easy enough for a sugar-phobe like me to handle. Have a wonderful holiday!

Kevin said...

I have been wondering what pralines were. These sound pretty good.

Meeta said...

You make my mouth water. Thes look lovely. Pecan & pralines an awesome combo!

creampuff said...

I thought I'd have time to do all sorts of things this Christmas like make pralines (you can't imagine how thrilled I am to see this recipe). I also thought I'd have more time for blog reading as I have especially missed your blog. Alas ... no time.

But I'm glad I caught this post. I'm wishing you all the very best in the New Year. Merry Christmas!

Homesick Texan said...

Kim--You're very welcome! Even though you're far from home and some good food, it must be wonderful to live in Hawaii!

Julie--Aren't they great? I'll have to try your recipe with the buttermilk, especially since it hails from a Tyler, TX Jr. League Cookbook.

Lunch Buckets--They were my first attempt at candy-making as well. I have my great-grandmother's recipe for divinity, so I plan on tackling that next.

Homesick Houstonian--I don't know how they couldn't be sweet if sugar is the prime ingredient. Have a blast in Houston! And I haven't been to Merida but I'll have to eat there next time I'm home.

Anon--I'm kind of impartial as I didn't attend either school, but I reckon my family ties are stronger to A&M as one great uncle was an English professor there and another was president of Texas A&M Kingsville. Though I do adore Austin and the color orange...

Kimberly--Yeah, the chewy ones get stuck in your teeth and that drives me nuts (no pun intended). Have a blast in Texas and get your fill of fantastic food!

Lydia--It's very easy, you probably don't even need a candy thermometer. Happy holidays to you, too!

Kevin--They're melt-in-mouth wonderful!

Meeta--Thank you--I'm a big fan of anything with pecans!

Creampuff--I hear you so much about the time--I've been so busy and overwhelmed lately I've fallen waaaaay behind on my blog reading as well. Happy New Year and Happy Holidays to you, too, Ivonne!

Kate / Kajal said...

hey there dear Texan , i simply love pralines , we make them in India too , its called Chikki , make them with just about every nut possible , peanuts , pistachios , almonds , seasme - black and white , puffed rice ...yeah those taste amazing and the list goes on. And surprisingly they have a gr8 variety in Hong Kong and china too. I guess the French taught the whole world :)

Wish You n your family a Merry Christmas , and a Happy New Year.

She sure is strange! said...

Alas, my mom was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this month so we won't be having sweets this Christmas. Well, maybe a cookie or two perhaps. I'd make these in a heartbeat if we could eat them. My only real treat this year is homemade butter from raw organic milk, oh my heavens it is wonderful!

Our family is divided into the camps of Longhorns vs Sooners. My parents, brother and I all went to OU but my husband is a loooongtime Longhorn fan as are my children! They want nothing to do with their Sooner heritage, the brats!

Have a merry Christmas!!

Molly

Homesick Texan said...

Kate--Those French got around! I had no idea this confection appeared in so many cuisines--I'd love to try chikki with black sesame seeds.

She Sure is Strange--I'm sorry to hear about your mother, but that homemade butter sounds pretty decadent--I've been meaning to make my own butter but haven't tried it yet. And it sounds like in your family OU-Texas weekend is the big battlefield instead of the day after Thanksgiving.

kickpleat said...

i've never had a praline and i can't imagine why not. yum.

eliza said...

happy holiday Lisa!

Cynthia said...

I've never had pralines!

Happy Holidays to you and the family!

Dayna said...

Gig 'Em Aggies!!! Whoop!

My hubby LOVES pralines, so I will try to make these for him!

Love your site, keep up the awesome work!

Lisa said...

I love pralines, and yours look divine.

Syrin said...

I enjoy reading your blog because it makes me realize that Texas and Louisiana aren't so different, at least when it comes to some of the foods we eat. Even if we do pronounce it differently.

I can't imagine having a chewy praline.. it sounds horribly wrong. Give me the kind that are so wonderfully creamy they melt in your mouth.

Frank said...

Ah yes-those little brown treats in the basket of chips at Monterrey House when I was a kid!
I'll bet you can't get the best ice cream in the world in NY-Blue Bell's Pecan Pralines & Cream!!!
Cheers!
FM

Longhorn Dave said...

I couldn't get my wife to make Tamales for Christmas down here in Argentina. Maybe, I can talk her into helping make pralines.

BTW.. Unlike Anon, I was so hoping you bleed burnt orange. You are very diplomatic in your neutral stance.

christine (myplateoryours) said...

Phew -- glad blogger has made it easy to comment on here again! And happy holidays to you! Hope things are going well.

StephBax said...

Wow! I am so glad I found your site!
I am in a tiny Northern Michigan tourist town which my husband moved our family to 4 years ago after he wanted to be "home". I was born in Houston and moved from there- I miss it so much! What a day to find your blog when we just got 11 inches of snow and I feel like a trapped animal in the house! I miss Tex-Mex so much and even the ingredients can be hard to find here! Great recipes and as soon as I can get plowed out today- I plan to hit the store and come home to start cooking. Now if I can just get the local grocery store employee not to stare blankly If I ask "Where do ya'll keep the cilantro at? "

Dawn said...

Thank you for the recipe! I was transplanted into Austin from Florida almost two years ago and am loving it. It's interesting to read an expat Texan's point of view. The East-coast can be difficult at first, but it has its own rewards as well.

Your blog is a real joy! Thank you for all your hard work, clever thoughts and delicious food! Yum! I will keep reading & cooking! Happy New Year!

Regards,
Dawn in NW Austin

Alexis said...

Wow I just finished making these. They are fabulous. So easy - I've never been successful in making candy before. Thank you for a little touch of home during the holidays.
Alexis

borchard504 said...

A happy habenero New Year.

Homesick Texan said...

Kickpleat--What are you waiting for? You must try them!

Eliza--Happy holiday to you, too!

Cynthia--You should definitely try them. And a happy holidays to you as well!

Dayna--Thanks! Hope he enjoys them!

Lisa--Why thank you! They taste heavenly.

Syrin--The chewy praline is a Central Texas thing, they'd never fly in Louisiana.

Frank--Didn't Monterrey House used to bring them for free with your check? And yes, I can't buy Blue Bell here at the store, but I can order it online. The wonders of modern technology!

Longhorn Dave--Pralines are far easier than tamales. As for my allegiance, I'm just trying to keep the peace! Though, ahem, burnt orange is indeed rather lovely.

Christine--Yeah, I don't know what was up with Blogger. Happy New Year! Hope you're having a blast in Florida.

StephBax--Welcome! Sorry to hear you're buried in snow, but cooking is always my favorite thing to do when housebound. Good luck finding the ingredients you need!

Dawn--Happy New Year to you, too! And while I miss home, I do love the East Coast as well, it's just different.

Alexis--Yay! I'm so glad y'all enjoyed them! And isn't it a treat discovering making candy at home isn't that hard?

Homesick Texan said...

Borchard504--May your New Year be hot and spicy as well!

Lizard Eater said...

Another mixed family here! The Husband and I are both T-sips, and the rest Aggies. Back when The Game was on Thanksgiving Day, we used to have to go into the front yard if we wanted to cheer UT.

Mansi Desai said...

I've never made Pralines myself before, bu these pecans are just inviting me to do so! thanks for sharing girl!:)

Louisiana Belle said...

Hey! Louisiana belle here. My daughter told me I should check this out.

Enjoyed the post on prah-lines. That is the way we pronounce it here and I find the other way...well...just wrong. :) It's like saying "crayfish" instead of "crawfish".

I make my pralines with brown sugar, heavy cream, unsalted butter, vanilla, and pecans. The only trouble I ever have is when I double the recipe. Never works. You really have to make small batches.

Anyway, great blog. Have a great new year!

Leslie said...

I use maple extract and brown sugar and evaporated milk. My hubby is from new orleans and pralines are his favorite treat. I make them for him on special occasions. I'm from Virginia (peanut territory) so I like peanut brittle. but does he make that for me? NO... ah well

Tace said...

Oh golly, I've never had an official praline. Just praline ice cream which was lovely and all but...oh my, your pictures are making me rethink the cleverness of the ice cream manufacturers.....why mash up those beauties? Why not just have some ice cream with a big ol' praline on the side?? haha I am recovering from a holiday full of yumminess but these pralines are on the top of my "to do" list.

Connie from Big Bear Lake California said...

So sorry to hear abour your sweet little cat! You have a great blog! I am too a Texan. Now my husband & I make Big Bear Lake California our home. Hope you check out my blog sometime. Connie

Brie said...

These look fantastic!
I am still on the hunt for a recipe for the candies that used to be in the bottom of the chip basket at Monterrey House(now Little Mexico). Mmmm

Lore said...

Ah, too bad I didn’t see this before Christmas :(. I guess I’ll make next week-end all the good recipes I missed for Christmas. Thanks for a yum idea!

val61sf said...

Monterrey House candy - yummy! From what I remember being told when I was growing up - it was made similar to candy in Mexico that was made there wit goat milk and sugar, cooking the sugar down to carmelize (like dulce de leche) and then adding in the goat milk. Something simple and cheap to keep the kids happy. I think restaurants served it to help diners at the end of a spicy meal. Sugar and milk are both great for killing the heat from peppers.

Anonymous said...

I always remember they would be at the cashiers station wrapped in cellophane with one huge half pecan on top. It appears there are many variations on the same theme. Some have chopped or many pecans, others are more crusty and sugary than caramel flavored. Those were my favorites!!!

Anonymous said...

I've got an easy microwave praline recipe--mix 1 lb. brown sugar with one cup heavy cream. Cook on high in microwave for about 5 minutes, stir, and cook another 4 minutes (times may vary, depending on the strength of the microwave; finding the best time may take some trial and error--but the errors can result in some tasty treats, too). Take the mixture out and stir in 2 Tbs. butter, 1 Tbs. vanilla, and 1 C pecan halves. Stir until the mixture starts to thicken slightly (and if it clumps up, you can add a couple of Tbs. of water or bourbon), and the spoon dollops onto slightly greased (Pam-ed) foil.

Hillary said...

I (heart) your blog! I found this a few months ago when I was looking for a picture of a sopapilla (which I have not made...yet) and have been "stalking" ever since.

These pralines are wonderful. They remind me of home (small town north of Houston). Thank you so much for continuing to add to your recipes!

Nikki said...

I tried this the other day and it's delicious! Thanks for sharing the recipe! I'll post a link to it later today on my blog.

We are the Guerra's! said...

I use my great grandmother's praline recipe, which is almost identical... hers uses a little bit less milk and a little bit more corn syrup if I recall. I seem to only have success with these in the wintertime tho, as humidity can ruin a good batch of pralines (I'm in Austin so it's relatively humid a good portion of the year, though thankfully not like Houston!). And don't put them on wax paper unless you like to eat it :o) Hook 'em!

Lauren said...

These look great! I say split the two and be a Tech fan :)

Amelia said...

I just made these! Thanks! They are great. My dad always brought these to me as a kid and explained that I HAD to like them. Not those weird red ones though. Eew. I will send him some of these.

M said...

This was wonderful and very easy to make! I think next time I might make it with a few less pecans (save a little :)) and let it cool a little more than a minute (the first few never hardened up, but after that they hardened up perfectly). I will definitely make this again. Tasted just like the kind I've bought in stores back in Texas :).

Maltok 5 said...

Yeah, those were awesome. And just like what I used to get in Texas growing up.

Definitely need to keep stirring till the glossiness goes away as the first 5 or so pralines stayed chewy, but the rest of the batch were nice and crispy. I should have stirred just a bit longer.

Thanks!

Elizabeth said...

Wow, THANKS for this recipe. Mine are cooling now and they look exactly like the pralines at home.

I was just in Texas for the holidays, and I meant to bring home some pralines for my friends to try. I picked up some of the chewy pralines (not thinking) and they are just not the same. So I'm making these to give out instead...

Maltok 5 said...

Made 2 batches of these this holiday and posted the links to you on twitter and facebook. You should get a medal for these. Awesome! Thanks again.

1trilliongrams said...

Making these tonight for a secret Santa gift for a young man who grew up in Massachusetts. I love subjecting yanks to southern delights.

Mike said...

Congrats on having your recipe featured in the latest issue of Texas Monthly!

Anonymous said...

hello- thanks for the recipe - i made this one once and they did not set... then my mom gave me my papaws recipe - and said his never turned out right... so i took yours and his and being down a half cup of brown sugar and adding a tbsp of water and going a bit longer on the "boil" i made dang good batch. gonna try again for thanksgiving tomorrow! wish me luck - thanks! dintx

Amy said...

Like you, I am a Texas ex-pat living in New York. I'm a director and editor in film/TV/theater. I have been directing the workshop of a play written by another fellow Texas ex-pat living in New York, which is premiering as a staged reading at The Actors Studio next week. I wanted the perfect thing to make to give to the actors as a Texas gift. This recipe is the winner. Thank you for sharing your homesickness. It helps so much with mine. :)

Victoria Ellis said...

I remember Monterrey House in Corpus, I think, I was probably 6 years old then (I'm 34 now!). I think the candy in the chip bowls was leche quemada... It is the closest I can find in how I remember it looking.

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