Pralines are a classic candy from the American South. American pralines bear very little resemblance to their culinary ancestors, French praline paste and Belgian chocolate pralines—they've morphed into a uniquely delicious, decadent confection. Unlike their European counterparts, American pralines (sometimes called "pecan candies") involve brown sugar, cream (or buttermilk), and pecans. When bakers spoon the molten, nutty caramel onto parchment paper or foil, it hardens into beautiful patties with a distinctive texture: The pecans impart a crunch, while the soft caramel base melts in your mouth. Some candy connoisseurs have likened pralines to fudge.
French settlers brought a taste for pralines (and a few recipes) to Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries. Faced with an abundance of pecan trees, they modified the traditional recipes, replacing hazelnuts and almonds with the indigenous American nut. When chefs in Louisiana began to add cream to the boiling sugar mixture, the candies acquired their unmistakable soft, fudgelike texture. Scholars estimate that vendors began to sell pralines on the streets of New Orleans in the 1860s. Since then, the candy has become a Southern staple, popular in Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and many other states.
How Do You Make Pralines?
Praline recipes may vary from region to region, but they all rely on the same basic technique: First, combine granulated sugar, butter, and a liquid (usually cream or milk) over medium heat, then boil the mixture until it reaches a specific temperature (usually 240 F). Add nuts and flavorings, then beat the mixture until it thickens. Form the patties, then let the pralines cool at room temperature. If you're a true praline fanatic, you should invest in a good candy thermometer—you should also get creative with your basic praline recipe and replace the pecans with chocolate and dried fruits.
If you're not an expert candymaker, you may have some trouble achieving the perfect praline texture. Fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels can wreak havoc on your sugar mixture, so it's best not to attempt pralines on a stormy, rainy, or humid day.
You may also run into some trouble toward the end of the recipe as you beat the praline mixture. Beat it too little, and the candies will be soft and runny. Beat it too much, and they'll be crystallized and grainy. But beat it just right, and your pralines will have that elusive, delightfully silky texture. Once you make a few batches, you'll become sensitive to those crucial changes in texture. If this is your first time making pralines, you may notice that your mixture begins to crystallize and harden in the pan. To loosen the candy and salvage it, stir in a teaspoon of very hot water, then form the patties as quickly as possible, before the mixture turns into a solid mass.
How Do You Pronounce Praline?
If you ask 10 different people to pronounce "praline," you may get 10 different responses. The pronunciation varies by region, but most Americans say PRAW-leen or PRAY-leen. In Louisiana, the heart of praline country, locals prefer PRAW-leen. Despite longstanding disputes about how to pronounce the word, everyone agrees that pralines are the perfect American candy.