When I was young and still living at home, my family would take long car trips every summer that lasted for weeks. Once we drove from Los Angeles to the tip of Baja California, took a ferry to mainland Mexico, and drove back visiting many of the main cities of the country. Another summer vacation, we drove all around the Southwest exploring the reservations and driving across the burning desert. Another time we drove the entire West coast along the ocean and another summer we drove to Chicago via a longer route through the deep south. (This is just one of the reasons corporations no longer give employees company cars!) It was along that trip through Louisiana my father and I fell in love with pecan pralines.
It seems like every Christmas I hunt down praline makers across the country trying to equal that first experience of the greatest praline ever. Unfortunately we’ve never quite found it. Perhaps that first experience really was the greatest praline in the country or perhaps our memory has falsely raised it to heroic status because the quest continues 35 years later.
Often, instead of buying pralines, I stumble across a recipe during the year and give it a try as a gift to my father for Christmas. That was the goal this Christmas as well, however it sure was a circuitous route! I started with a successful recipe from a few years back but the pralines turned out horrible: super grainy and hard. A few days before flying to visit my parents for the holidays I remade the recipe again with minimal, if any, success into cracking the praline code, drats! So the days before Christmas, I looked over numerous online recipe forums and watched hours of youtube praline making videos rating their skills (and believability) of their masterful claims.
After hours of scanning, searching and forwarding, I came across what appeared to be the Holy Grail. Is it possible? Here in the depths of the digital age are the secrets to the perfect pecan praline recipe and her name was “momma”. No she isn’t fat and a know-it-all but rather a camera shy Joyce sharing her family recipe that is at least as old as her great grandma. I like that she isn’t a spring chicken. Many of the other videos were from owners of praline shops that weren’t sharing the recipe (just a video making them) or young people, many without ever trying a New Orleans style “praw-leen”. If you want to watch momma cook, below is her sweet video with her daughter interviewing her. Further below is her transcribed recipe (by me).
After five attempts this December alone, this is by far the best and simplest recipe. However I will definitely experiment with the recipe further in upcoming kitchen fetes. I’d like to double (or triple!?) the vanilla and see how that tastes. I’d also like to try toasting the pecans first. Putting them in at the beginning as suggested by momma, didn’t roast them as much as I was hoping. Also if you’re a soft praline lover, more butter causes softer and opaque pralines, less butter, clearer and more brittle.
2 cups pecans
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
2 ounces butter (1/2 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Put the sugar, pecans and milk in a heavy skillet on high fire. When the mixture begins to boil, lower it to medium high (8 out of 10 on an electric stove.) Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Momma sometimes adds a quarter teaspoon cream of tartar at this point. It’ll be about 10 minutes of cooking from this point. Stir, stir, stir and keep that boiling rolling. You’ll soon notice that the mixture begins to “leave the pot”, which is what momma calls the mixture sticking together and leaving a trail behind the stirring exposing the bottom of the pot. Over time that exposed area will get wider and take more time before it closes over. When the mixture “leaves the pot” well, I noticed a color change with the mixture. Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla stirring very fast. Now use a metal spoon and drop spoonfuls on waxed paper set over newspaper. (Make them once and you’ll see what the newspaper is for!)
Our batch made one dozen large pralines. Great texture and flavor with no graininess. Here, grab one…
We let the pralines cool while we washed the dishes and by that time, the pralines were ready. They remove quite easily from the waxed paper and before we could set them onto a plate, half of them instantly disappeared. Magic! Smooth, shiny, and scrumptious. Happy experimenting with a fabulous recipe and thanks Momma!!!
Are you ever in Los Angeles? I know it’s a long way from the traditional Louisiana but my dad’s favorite pralines to get his happy little hands on these last few years are located downtown Los Angeles, California in the oldest street in the city. It’s called Olvera Street. It’s very touristy yet still charming with beautiful old California buildings. It’s not very long so even though I don’t have the address, it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to find it. (It’s a short little street.) The praline’s aren’t always there as they are cooked in small batches but if you’re lucky enough to be there when Lupe has them, they are delicious. My dad usually buys a bag of them and then hides them from the rest of the family. It’s his secret little medicinal stash. Be sure to try some of her other candies, delish Mexican sweets. Here’s a picture of my elated dad in front of Lupe’s candy shop. Please tell her “hi” from us!
Are you ready? After several more testings we have a few suggestions to ramp up your pralines to the next level. First, really toast those pecans. Of course you don’t want to burn them but get that pecan oil hot and fill your kitchen with wonderful pecan odors. Your taste buds will appreciate the early work to improve the flavor of your pralines. We also tried 3 teaspoons of vanilla which doesn’t taste more vanillish but rather just richer. Just in case pure sugar candies aren’t rich enough!
PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW….