When I was invited to a party where Southern pork dishes were being celebrated, the decision on what to bring was a no-brainer: Mexican chocolate pralines. Now before you call my contribution a little odd, let me explain myself.
My first (and more obvious) choice was to make cookies with lard. I didn’t have any lard on hand, however, so I went to the Union Square farmers’ market to pick up a tub. But a snowstorm had threatened to blanket the city and my preferred lard vendor wasn’t there; clearly, I had to come up with another plan.
I’ve been spending lots of time lately reading old cookbooks. I’m curious to see what our ancestors ate and to see when certain dishes may have come into the common culinary vernacular. When looking for inspiration, I recalled that I had recently come across an old Mexican-candy recipe that called for piloncillo (or brown sugar) to be cooked with water and a strip of raw bacon.
Now, I know bacon in a dessert is a trendy thing these days, but I was intrigued to see it listed in a 100-year-old recipe. And while I didn’t have lard to make cookies, bacon was easily attainable. In another cookbook, I had seen a recipe for Mexican-chocolate pralines. So for the pork-themed feast, I decided to combine the two thoughts and make Mexican-chocolate pralines with bacon.
Making a first-time dish to share at a large gathering is always brave if not foolish. And while the flavor of these pralines was pleasing, the texture was too delicate. So instead of patties thick with pecans and bacon, I had broken chips and shards instead. My pralines looked sad. Plus you couldn’t even really taste the bacon! But I was out of time and couldn’t show up empty handed so I threw the pieces into a tin and headed to the party.
I suppose my offering these praline pieces was the equivalent of a student who shows a failed project to a teacher to prove that she has at least tried to complete the assignment. I gave myself about a C for effort. But then a strange thing happened. While at the party, I witnessed people eating the Mexican-chocolate praline pieces. And they were smiling! With pleasure! So, with a little work I knew I could make the Mexican chocolate pralines into something special.
Buoyed by my friends’ comments, the next day I attempted to make these pralines again. I threw out the bacon (even though it had been the primary impetus to make these in the first place), added more nuts, let the candy cook longer and threw in some orange zest for a hint of brightness. And after an hour of letting the pralines harden, I had a long sheet of parchment paper lined with a fine batch of Mexican chocolate pralines.
If you’re looking for Valentine’s inspiration, these take little time and effort to make but are very impressive (even when they’re not entirely perfect). But you don’t need a special occasion to eat them, as they’re a simple pleasure that can be enjoyed at any time.
Mexican chocolate pralines (adapted from Aprovecho)
1 disc of Mexican hot chocolate, such as Ibarra
2 oz. of unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups of pecans, 1 cup chopped and 1 cup whole
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of milk
6 tablespoons of butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest or 1 teaspoon dried orange zest
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In an oven set at 350 degrees, roast the pecans for 10 minutes.
In a large pot, melt together on medium heat the chocolates, sugars, pecans, milk, butter, cinnamon, orange zest, Cayenne and sea salt, stirring occasionally. Place a candy thermometer in the pot to monitor the heat. When it reaches 235 degrees, remove from fire and add the vanilla and stir the pot for two minutes. There should be a bit of shine to the candy but the candy will be a bit more thick.
Scoop pralines onto parchment paper. (If it’s too stiff, add warm water to mixture.) Let cool for an hour and remove. They will still be a bit shiny but will lose that shine after a few hours. No matter, they're still delicious!
Depending on how large your scoops may be, this makes about 20 pralines. They will keep for five days.
Note: If you want to add bacon to these, I’d fry up four slices, crumble them and stir into praline when you add the vanilla.