Experienced Southern cooks will tell you that pralines are just about the last things you should try to make on a day when the heat is high and the humidity is higher.
But on just such a day, I set out to test a recipe called Real Fast Pralines for this week’s Food section, to be included in a collection of summer Southern dishes. Recipe editor Bonnie Benwick assigned it to me, trusting that I would get it done right. I didn’t want to let her down.
And why would I? After all, it was my second praline experience for Food. Two years ago, in nearly effortless fashion, I turned in — there’s no need to be modest here — a gorgeous plateful of Coffee and Chicory Pralines.
The recipe for Real Fast Pralines, which you’ll find at the end of this post, eschewed the candy thermometer, soft-ball stage testing and other technical aspects of more-traditional praline preparations. It substituted a few minutes of high-powered cooking in the microwave, some stirring, more cooking, then finally the careful portioning out of a molten, pecan-studded sugar mixture that was supposed to set up into a smooth, evenly colored confection.
Except it didn’t.
I live in an old house, where just the top floor has been modernized with central air-conditioning. The kitchen climate tends to be a little muggy. Within minutes of being spooned onto their parchment paper, the pralines started to crystallize. Before my eyes, dull grayish spots formed on the candy, marring the surface. Some were so bad, it looked as though lichens had started growing there.
Clearly, there would be no newspaper photos of these mottled lumps. But how did they taste? Besides a slight graininess, they were fine. Inhaled, in fact, by my newsroom colleagues; but then again, they have a reputation for eating anything. And there’s no denying the pralines were easy. But I had to report failure, and it was demoralizing.
Thank heavens for search engines. I nosed around the Internet for “pralines” and “spots” and related terms and found many, many mentions of unsightly results caused by humidity. And when I entered “pralines” into Google Images, I saw those spots on homemade pralines, to be sure, but also on pricey store-bought models.
So I guess there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Spots happen. We pulled the recipe out of the “Do Not Publish” basket, and I’m posting it here for all to try.
But why not wait a few months? That’s my plan: I’ll try it again later, in more favorable weather, and if it works, it’ll become part of our Recipe Finder database.
Back to those coffee-flavored pralines that were such a success. I checked the date and, sure enough, I’d made them in October. Lesson learned, and on to the next recipe test.
Real Fast Pralines
Makes 30 smallish pralines
Pralines call Louisiana home, but different parts of the South say the word differently. “Prah-LEEN” is said in Cajun country; those who live east say “PRAY-leen.” Southerners have made these famous candies for centuries.
This recipe was originally tested for the cookbook using a 1,100-watt microwave oven. Check the wattage of your oven by reading the fine print usually found on the door. If yours is particularly high-powered, the stirring time will be closer to 5 minutes; if it has lower wattage, you’ll have less stirring to do.
Adapted from “Quick-Fix Southern,” by Rebecca Lang (Andrews McMeel, 2011).
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
5 ounces (1 small can) evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups pecan halves
4 tablespoons (1 / 2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1 / 2-inch pieces
Lay two sheets of parchment paper on the countertop.
Combine the sugars in a 2 1 / 2-quart microwave-safe glass bowl. Stir in the evaporated milk, vanilla extract, pecan halves and butter. Microwave on HIGH for 4 1 / 2 minutes. Mix well to incorporate, being careful not to burn yourself. Microwave for 4 minutes.
Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave and stir for 4 or 5 minutes, to cool the mixture. Watch closely until you notice that the mixture has begun to thicken slightly and become less shiny.
Working quickly, use a tablespoon-size spoon to scoop the mixture onto the parchment paper. (If it has not cooled enough, the pralines will look watery when scooped out; continue beating a few more seconds.)
Let the finished pralines cool completely before storing them in an airtight container, at room temperature.