The 2020 Holidays Recipe Collection
How you doin’? As we get closer to the holidays it time to think about gift-giving for the ones you love. I guess you might like to buy your loved one a brand new iPhone for $1,000, but during these times it’s hard to come up with the “scratch” when we are looking to pinch pennies. New Orleans’ Pecan Pralines (prah-leen) are a sweet diversion from the current Covid-19 pandemic.
You might ask, where did these delicious confections come from? As with most food history there are lots of stories from all over the world. It’s hard to find just one definitive history of the pecan praline in the southern United States. Many believe that pralines, named after a French diplomat (César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin) from the early 17th century. The creator of the praline is believed to be his personal chef, Clement Lassagne.
Some versions have Lassagne getting the idea from children who were scavenging for scraps in the kitchens, nibbling on almonds and caramel leftover from one of his pastry creations. In another tale, the children were discovered stealing almonds from the kitchens when Lassagne followed the delicious smell to find them caramelizing the almonds in sugar over a candle. Yet one more version has Lassagne getting the idea from a clumsy young apprentice who knocked over a container of almonds into a vat of cooking caramel. A more playful account paints du Plessis-Praslin as a notorious lady’s man, who asked his chef to come up with an irresistible treat he could present to the women he would court. He would put the sweet sugary nuts into little parcels marked with his name, so people began to call the sweets after him.
Whatever the real story, we know that the original praline was a sweet confection made of almonds and some sort of creamy sugary caramelized coating. The candy was named praslin, after the owner of the kitchen instead of the chef, but Lassagne did well enough for himself, eventually opening a sweet shop in France called the Maison du Praslin, which still exists in some form today.
It is believed that pralines were came to America from France by the Ursuline nuns, who came to New Orleans in 1727. They oversaw young women sent over from France at the request of Bienville to marry New Orleans’ colonists. The nuns instructed these ladies to be upstanding women as well as good wives to the settlers, and during their scholastic and domestic educations, the women were taught the art of praline making.
Almonds being in short supply, cooks began substituting native Louisiana pecans for almonds, and thus the birth of the modern pecan pralines. That’s when praline became a sugary, creamy, pecan-laden candy. Praline pecans were known as individual pecans covered in the sugary coating. These new pecan pralines quickly spread throughout the New Orleans culture and became a common confection in the area. Soon, praline sales were a small but historically significant industry for the city.
Modern day New Orleans pecan pralines are not very different than the ones made a hundred years ago. The common factors are dairy, sugar, and pecans. Some people use water or evaporated milk; others use vanilla, maple, and sometimes broken bits of pecans. Since 1992, Southern candymakers’ pralines are made simply of fresh milk, cream, butter, sugar, and jumbo pecans halves like the recipe below. They are made the traditional way, each one hand-scooped and cooled.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes
Cool time: 20 minutes
Yield: 40-50 pralines
8 cups granulated sugar
1/4-pound unsalted butter
4 cups half & half
1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups whole small pecans
ChefSecret: Work carefully… a sugar burn can ruin your whole day. This is a recipe modified for home use. You will need to find a way to keep mixture warm and somewhat fluid while scooping out onto baking sheets.
Covid-19 Quip of the Day: “With all this time on my hands lately, I’ve been thinking… Why is there an expiration date on sour cream?”
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Here is wishing you the very best for the upcoming holidays. To you and everyone dear to you, be strong, be positive, stay well, stay safe and be kind welcoming in the holiday season. If you have a little extra in your pockets to share with others at this difficult time, please consider donating to Feeding America. Thanks for reading.
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