A Pecan Praline Dreams of New Orleans

Husband and I are going on 6 months together this week – our half-aversary or whatever you would call it. We went to see a beautiful modern dance company yesterday, and I am feeling particularly grateful to have him lately, and it always makes me daydream a bit of our honeymoon.

The morning after the wedding was rather ethereal – I couldn’t believe that all the planning was done, that I’d really gotten through the whole thing and it had gone well – my family and friends had enjoyed themselves and met my husband. That morning, though, we took a few hours to eat and unwrap some presents, but fairly soon we set off for New Orleans: half-way across the country but actually even more of a world away.

New Orleans looks to me like a European town, somewhere in France, maybe. The tropical air of the place still clung in those early days of December, and we settled into a little cottage on Esplanade and began a lovely week of wandering, eating, wandering some more, listening to music in small jazz clubs, looking out at the water, and discovering dusty bookstores and strange antique shops all over the city. I know we barely covered any of the city, but it felt like we saw so much in those days.

While the savory staples – jambalaya, shrimp etouffee, gumbo – filled our bellies, I picked out sweet, nutty pralines to bring home for Christmas. The other day, during a sweet tooth craving, I mixed up a batch of pralines and have been breaking off bits of it for days, satisfying a little sweetness and a little crunch.

I started by roasting pecans in butter, keeping an eye on them while I worked on the rest of the praline. Based on whatever recipe fits your fancy, mix brown sugar with butter and heat on high; the goal is to get the mixture dissolved and heated to the ‘soft ball’ stage with a candy thermometer. You can also just drop a bit of the mixture into ice water; when it stops splatting into the bottom of the cup and instead retains a ball form, you’re ready. Add the now-roasted pecans, remove from heat, and set to stirring. Once you notice that the mixture is thickening, you pour it out on a buttered piece of tin foil, and let it harden. Once finished, it’ll be the consistency of fudge or maple sugar candy, crumbly but with the crunch of the pecans.

I got my recipe from 101 Classic Cookbooks by the Fales Library – a present from my cousin J who lives far away but surprised me by coming to the wedding anyway – her sweet words and calm smile were so helpful to me in the sea of faces that day. She sent the cookbook later, and it felt like some kind of sign – she is in no small part the reason I started this blog! The book contains multiple praline recipes, but the brown sugar recipe seems most reminiscent of the ones we tried from New Orleans.

I cannot ditch home and run off to eat shrimp at outdoor cafes right now, but I can at least bite off a morsel of sweetness that I associate with a time of great relief and simple happiness.