Pro tips for a Southern classic.
The most beautiful sight of the holidays is kitchen counters covered in confections and candies cooling on long cuttings of parchment paper. Some are dusted in powdered sugar; others gleam with specs of candied fruit; and several harden into solid sheets of colorful cooked sugar, waiting to be shattered. But, as a Southerner worth my title, my eye is quick to find the lumps of gold and brown roughly sitting in the shape of a circle. Pralines are decadent. Their buttery sweetness complements the already rich flavor of toasted pecans. Creamy in flavor and both sandy and crunchy in texture, pralines are quite possibly the quintessential confection to represent the pecan trees and sugar cane native to the South.
Our recipe for pralines is trustworthy, but as with any candy recipe, it’s always good to have a few pro tips up your sleeve before you begin.
Tip #1: Get a Candy Thermometer
Sugar is one of the most finicky ingredients in the kitchen. The temperature to which sugar is cooked determines how it will set up as it cools. Pralines should be cooked to 236°F (soft ball stage) so that it is still pliable when it cools and so it maintains the smooth sandy texture typical of pralines. This is impossible to determine without a thermometer, and if you overheat the sugar, you are guaranteed to make pralines that are too firm and grainy.
Tip #2: Prepare Everything Before You Begin
Having everything measured and ready before you begin is necessary for success—you should not leave the stove once you begin the process. If you’re scrambling to throw parchment paper on a baking sheet while your sugar is cooking, you might overcook it, and there’s no recovery from that mistake.
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Tip #3: Use a Big Pot
The molten sugar gurgles as it cooks, sometimes causing spurts of hot sugar to splash up. A big pot prevents both messes and burns. It also makes it easier to stir the praline without your hand being too close to the heat.
Tip #4: Listen While You Stir
The final step in preparing praline is to constantly stir the praline for a few minutes after it has cooled to 150°F. As you stir the praline, you will feel the sugar thicken slightly and the moment you hear the pecans make a grainy scraping sound, stop stirring and quickly scoop the pralines onto the prepared parchment. The glossiness of the sugar will be gone. Be sure to work quickly as the pralines will begin to set and harden soon after you begin scooping them.