Once you’ve had these, you’ll never buy them again.
My mother had several recipes that she only made at the holidays. She made divinity, a date log, gingerbread houses and pralines. We rarely ate out, but when we did, it was often Mexican food. At the checkout counter, these restaurants always sold pralines that disappointed me.
None of them compared to my mother’s. I don’t know where she got this recipe. Perhaps my nanny, Mrs. Pompa, taught her to make them. My memory of Mrs. Pompa is filled with her pillowy soft, warm brown skin. I loved her, and she loved me, too. And boy, could she cook.
Her kindness extended to everyone. She would share anything, including family recipes. I’m guessing this one came from her, and my mother shared the recipe freely, too.
This recipe makes 18-24 pralines. It takes time, but isn’t difficult. You don’t need a candy thermometer, or any other special baking equipment. It is easier, though, if two people are present to dish them out of the pan.
Also, make separate batches instead of doubling the recipe if more are needed. You will have difficulty with boiling over or not being able to get them out of the pan before they are set, if you don’t make multiple batches.
2 c. (384 g.) granulated sugar
1 c. (250 g.) buttermilk
1 tsp. (5 g.) baking soda
1 tsp. (3 g.) butter extract
1 tsp. (3 g.) vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. (14 g.) butter
2 c. (224 g.) pecan halves
Do this before you start.
Fill a small glass parfait cup with tap water. I usually fill two because when you are ready for them, it is hard to step away and refill them. You’ll run the risk of the batter overflowing the pan. Often, I ask my husband to rinse and refill them, if it’s needed.
Also, spread two 2-foot lengths of wax paper, side-by-side, on a flat surface or countertop. Once you are ready to dish out the pralines, you won’t have time to prepare them.
Cook the pralines.
You will need at least a 3-quart or larger saucepan for this recipe. I prefer using a 4-quart, but it can be done in a 3-quart if you watch and stir it constantly. Do not use anything smaller than 3-quarts. It will overflow and create a huge mess that is difficult to clean up.
Place the sugar, buttermilk and baking soda in your saucepan. Turn the heat up to medium low. Stir the mixture as it cooks. This dissolves the sugar completely and prevents it from boiling over. Also, keeping it moving ensures that it won’t burn on the bottom of the pan.
As it cooks, it will begin to darken in color. At first it will begin to look buttery. The longer it cooks, the darker it gets. Ultimately, it will turn the deep amber color of caramel. This is when you need to test it for readiness.
Test the mixture for readiness.
Use the water-filled glass dish to test the doneness of the mixture. To do this, scoop a small amount of the hot praline mixture onto a spoon and drizzle it into the water. Give it a few seconds to cool, but not too long or it will absorb the water.
Reach into the water and roll the cooled mixture into a ball and lift it out. It should form a soft ball of caramel that easily lifts from the dish. It’s okay if it spreads a bit, but it shouldn’t drip off your fingers If it doesn’t stay in a soft ball, keep cooking and testing until it does. Remove the pan from the heat.
Note: I find that the average cooking time for me is about 45 minutes.
Add the final ingredients to the pralines.
Once the pralines have cooked to the soft ball stage, add the butter extract, vanilla extract and butter. Use a whisk to beat the mixture in a figure-8 pattern. It froths air into the candy which will help it firm up as it cools.
Beat the mixture for 1 to 2 minutes. Once it seems to start hardening along the edges of the pan, you need to stop.
Work quickly from now on. Stir in the pecan halves. Once the pecans are completely coated, use a large spoon to scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the batter and pecans.
Use a second spoon to scrape the mixture off the spoon onto the waxed paper. This is where a second person comes in handy. Have them hold the pan while you work quickly to scoop and scrape out the individual pralines.
By the time you deposit the last praline onto the paper, the first ones should have started firming up. Sometimes the last pralines out of the pan are already getting firm. It’s common that the last ones out firm up before the first ones. Allow them to sit until completely firm.
Store the pralines.
I usually make three batches of pralines for family gatherings. I transport them in large round holiday tins. They easily last two weeks this way. I put a layer of waxed paper in the bottom and put a layer of pralines on top. They should not touch each other because they can clump together.
A sheet of waxed paper between the layers of pralines keeps them separated. A last layer of waxed paper on top protects the pralines from the lid. If you need them to last longer than two weeks, individually wrap each one in plastic wrap to protect them from moisture that will make them soggy.
These pralines will spoil you for all others.
I often wondered why I prefer these homemade pralines to those found in restaurants. I discovered that many restaurants use brown sugar and corn syrup to sweeten their versions. This makes them extra sweet and a bit grainy, like they have sand in them.
My pralines are smooth and have a rich caramel flavor, which I love. I have made these without the pecans for my brother, who hates nuts. They are still delicious. If you like sea salt and caramel, you could sprinkle the tops with sea salt, or substitute your favorite nut. Any way you eat these, you’ll love them.
Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft. Top writer in Food and Cooking.