15 Jul Pecan Pralines // A Bachelorette in The Big Easy
New Orleans. NOLA. N’awlins. The Big Easy. Crescent City.
A strange bird, by any name.
I recently spent a whirlwind weekend in New Orleans. I was there for a bachelorette with my closest friends — the best way to see any city, I think.
The last time I visited New Orleans was as a teenager on a spring break trip with my parents, who lived there for a year in the early 70s. Their stories of the city that they grew to know so well, that first year of marriage, for me has always conjured up romantic imagery of sweltering Lousiana evenings, sitting around a table of friends on French wraught-iron balconies, cold beers dripping fat drops of condensation, the air thick with humidity & the sounds of jazz drifting up from the street corner. They’re always laughing, my dad telling an off-color joke, and my mom looking the part of a mid-west-girl-gone-cajun, peeling shrimp and kicking back long-necks like she was born with the south in her blood.
Of course, my imagination is quite fanciful in its interpretation, and probably far from accurate. They were a couple of kids right out of college, next to nothing in their bank accounts and likely experiencing the city from an equally sweaty, but much less idyllic vantage point. But their tales of oyster po-boys and long, slow dinners made an imprint on my young imagination. And when I finally made it there as a teenager and met Bourbon Street for the first time, in all its stinking glory, I distinctly remember thinking — I’m coming back here when I’m 21!
Fast forward to present day. Not quite 21 anymore but still young enough to justify acting irresponsibly once in a while, I found myself on the streets of New Orleans with my best gals.
It was a weekend of epic proportions. Three weeks later (yep, I’ve been slacking) my heart is still over-flowing with happiness (and my liver still recovering) from all of the belly laughs and lady hugs.
There were drive-thru daiquiris, 2pm tequila shots on Frenchman Street (courtesy of middle-aged men who hang out at bars in the middle of the day??), vats of late-night queso and ranch dip (literally, vats), and of course, piles on piles of beignets at Cafe Du Monde.
Beads were stripped from trees and used to decorate lazy porch-dwelling kitty cats. Giggles were had over our dingy fingers and toes –swelled up like sausages, victims to the city’s ruthless, wet heat — and a good shoe was lost to it’s trecherously uneven sidewalks (may it rest in peace). We slurped fat gulf oysters washed down by more daiquiris, and made suggestive jokes about the peppery alligator sausage-on-a-stick in the French Market.
Our evenings were spent in courtyards trimmed with twinkle lights, doing our best to stay cool by sipping chilled bubbles and staying as still as possible.
We dined at Cafe Amelie (because we read Jay-Z and Bey dined there so, duh) and Oxalis. Both highly recommended — Cafe Amelie for it’s twinkly ambiance and generous service, and Oxalis for it’s Bywater, hipster vibe + ‘elevated gastropub’ social plates, designed to complement their extensive whiskey menu.
And then there was Bourbon Street.
On our first visit, fueled by 20 oz. Hurricanes and clad in kitty ears and bow ties (yes, we shamelessly indulged in the ‘bachelorette package’) we managed to fit 13 women on the stage at the Cat’s Meow for a group karaoke rendition of Like a Virgin (naturally).
We took to the balcony with beads and saw things we cannot unsee (Show us your #@*!….PUT IT AWAY!!!). Drunk people will still show their goodies for beads, y’all. Mardi Gras or not. You’ve been warned.
The blushing bachelorette even showed off the fruits of her early morning barre classes on the mechanical bull at Bourbon Cowboy. The secrets in the thighs — keep ’em clenched, ladies — sound advice both on and off the bull.
It was magical in all the wrong ways, as Bourbon should be.
I managed to stuff my face with all of the foods on my ‘Must Eat While in New Orleans’ list except Pralines. Don’t ask me how, I love pralines, but somewhere between po’ boy, hangover and po’ boy, they got overlooked. So, to fill the empty space in my stomach I made them at home.
That’s a lie. It’s impossible to leave New Orleans with any semblance of an appetite. So I waited a few weeks. You know, to finish digesting the beignets and all.
This was my first foray into the world of praline making. I will not claim praline perfection nor will I pretend to be an expert. Candy making is hard. Hot sugar is scary. I admit, I screwed up a couple of times. But I learned a few things and eventually, I got them right. The good news about bad pralines? Even the rejects taste good — the most common errors result in ugly pralines, not gross ones.
Let’s talk about it, shall we?
1. Use a good candy thermometer. Unless you’re an experienced candy maker with an eye for cooking sugar, you’re going to need a candy thermometer for this recipe, and a good one at that. Mine got water on the inside and steamed up in the middle of the candy making process, leaving me squinting through foggy glass to try to read the temperature. Not ideal.
2. Four hands are better than two. Once your mixture comes of the heat you’re going to stir, stir, stir as the syrup begins to recrystallize. As soon as the mixture starts to cool & thicken, it’s time to drop the mixture onto your parchment paper. If you move too slowly, the mixture will set up in the pot and you’ll be left with cloudy paste. I recommend having a second set of hands to help you drop the pralines. If you’re alone, be ready to move fast! Note that if your pralines do start to set up in to pot, you can add a tablespoon or two of warm water to loosen them up. Alternatively, scoop them into less pretty (but just as tasty) rounds (ok, blobs) OR spread it into a bark that can be eaten as is or chopped up and used as an ice cream topping.
3. Evaporated milk vs cream vs whole milk. You’ll find praline recipes calling for each. As far as I can tell, they’re interchangeable. Obviously, using heavy cream will result in a richer, creamer praline – but to what degree I do not know. I used evaporated milk not because of flavor or texture, but because of this sweet video — I have a weakness for recipes from grandmas.
For more great tips, check out this article from The Kitchn.
I used this recipe from Elizabeth LaBau for my pralines but slightly adapted the method based on my research. Enjoy!
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 4 tbsp butter, cubed
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1.5 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
- Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Get all of your ingredients ready to go, candy making moves quickly!
- In a medium saucepan combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, and evaporated milk over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then insert a candy thermometer.
- Cook the candy, stirring occasionally, until the candy reaches 230 degrees on the thermometer.
- Drop in the butter and pecans and continue to stir until the butter has melted and the candy thermometer reaches between 238 - 240F.
- Remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract, and begin to stir smoothly and constantly with a wooden spoon. Soon the candy will begin to get thicker and lighter in color and begin to lose its gloss, about 2 minutes.
- At this point, quickly begin to drop small spoonfuls of the candy onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Work quickly to form the candies, as the pralines will start to set in the saucepan. If the candy stiffens before you’re done scooping, add a spoonful of very hot water and stir until it loosens, then continue scooping until you have formed all the pralines.
- Allow the candy to fully set at room temperature, for about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.