One of my very favorite moments on my recent trip to Louisiana was our visit to The New Orleans School of Cooking. We were welcomed by one of the most gregarious, gracious, and kind-spirited women I've ever met. Her name is Anne Leonhard, and if your pralines have been giving you trouble, Anne has the magic words to make them come out right.
First, here is a recipe for pralines, adapted from the recipe used at the New Orleans School of Cooking:
ANNE'S PRALINE TIPS:
1. Stick to the Recipe - This is harder than Anne probably realized for those of us who like to tinker! But she's right: if you stick to the ingredients listed and just do each step of the recipe as it comes, your pralines really do come out just fine.
2. Don't Mess with the Butter - This probably falls under the "stick to the recipe" advice, but it's worth mentioning it on their own. More butter than the recipe specifies and the cookies spread out too much. As for less butter? Well, these cookies are an indulgence no matter what you do, so Anne would probably say just close your eyes and throw it in pot.
3. Have Everything Ready Ahead of Time - Pralines are less fussy than other candies, but once you start making them, you can't stop or pause. Measure out all the ingredients before turning on the stove, and make sure you have a piece of parchment or silpat laid out to receive the molten pralines.
4. Use a Large Pot - Anne's exact words were, "Use a pot that's bigger than you think you need." The syrup bubbles up as it cooks and a big pot also makes the job of stirring easier. In my testing, I found a 4-quart saucepan to be just the right size.
5. Don't Stop Stirring Until the Pot Talks - Here, she's referring to the step of cooling the syrup before dropping the candies to harden. It starts off very loose and liquidy. As you stir, sugar crystals start to form and the syrup will start to feel thick and grainy against your spoon. The "pot is talking" when you can hear the tiny sugar crystals scraping the sides. That's the sign to head to the counter and drop your pralines.
One Last Tip: Don't Double the Recipe - The problem with doubling the recipe is that you can't drop the pralines fast enough before the syrup gets too cool and hard in the pot. Since a batch of pralines only takes fifteen minutes or so to make, it's better to just do multiple batches if you're cooking for a crowd.
Anne also had some advice for variations on the classic praline, which all sound completely irresistible to me. Which one to try first?
• Chocolate Pralines - Add 1/2 cup of chocolate with all the ingredients
• Peanut Butter Pralines - Add 1/3 cup of peanut butter in the last 30 seconds of boiling the syrup
• Nut-Free Pralines - Add 1 1/2 cups puffed rice cereal right when the pot starts talking before you start dropping the candies
If you're ever in New Orleans, I definitely recommend stopping by The New Orleans School of Cooking for one of their demonstrations or to take a class. You'll be treated to some real Louisiana home cooking and pick up some lessons to take back to your own kitchen.
• New Orleans School of Cooking, 524 St. Louis Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Have you ever made pralines? What are your tricks?
(Information for this post was gathered during a press trip to New Orleans sponsored by the Louisiana Seafood Board. All views and opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author.)
(Images: Emma Christensen)