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Pralines

Pronounced "prah-leens," these are tender, creamy, intensely-caramel, nutty, melt-in-your-mouth sweets that have been extremely popular in southern Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf-Coast region for generations. The uniquely-American savor of pralines made with pecans is widely enjoyed today around the globe as the main flavor component in everything from ice cream to fancy liqueur. It can be argued that the word praline is, in fact, equated throughout the world with this venerable American taste-treat.


My dad learned the recipe below from one of the many restaurants, bars and hotels he worked at for years in New Orleans. Some of my clearest memories of him when he was his happiest go back to watching him fuss over making these things on Saturday afternoons, taking up every available square inch of counter space in the kitchen with wax paper to spread these out on to cool. Since his death in early 2005, it spooks me a little to undertake this recipe!


Ingredients:

2 cups (453.6 g) white, granulated sugar
¾ cup (177.75 ml) evaporated milk (dad used Pet brand, and so do I)
2/3 cup (158 ml) boiling water
1/3 cup (79 ml) white/corn syrup (dad used Karo brand - I do, too)
½ tsp. (1.20 g) baking soda
8 - 10 oz. (226.8 - 283.5 g) pecan halves
1 tsp. (2.5 ml) vanilla extract



Preparation:

On medium-high heat, bring the sugar, milk, water and syrup to a boil in a 4-quart (3.8 liter) or larger pot. Add the soda and watch out - it can really foam up! You may need to adjust the heat to insure it doesn't boil over as you cook it. Be careful and stir it very gently, or else it may spit red-hot droplets out on you and, believe me, it hurts when they hit bare skin (I wear protective oven mitts and long sleeves)! I mostly stir the top of the foaming, boiling mixture during this phase (as often stirring on the bottom releases furious, spattering bubbles!) and, keeping my face well away, I blow on it frequently to keep it from boiling over. That way, I can keep it on a higher heat setting and it reaches the required temperature range sooner, rather than later.

The foaminess should subside as it cooks and reaches the required temperature range. The trick to success with making these is getting this mixture hot enough.

Stir constantly, continuing until the mixture reaches at least 225° F. (107.22° C), but no more than 240° F. (115.56° C) on a candy thermometer (see notes below).

Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract (it'll sizzle a little in the molten-hot mixture!) and the pecan pieces, then beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and starts to lose its shiny gloss. Don't let it thicken up too much on you - it needs to still be fairly loose and fluid in order to form the pralines! If it gets too stiff to work with, add a few drops (not too much) of hot water to the mixture. You'll have to work quickly!

Drop by the heaping tablespoon onto non-stick aluminum foil or waxed (grease-proof) paper and allow to cool for a good 10 minutes.


This recipe makes around a dozen. To store them, wrap them individually in wax paper and put them in an air-tight container.


The recipe takes a little practice (they're a big pain in the rear to make), but it's well worth getting right because there's nothing else like these on the planet when they come fresh from your own kitchen!


Notes:

If you don't have a candy thermometer, you'll have to rely on the old-fashioned way of determining the proper heat referred to as bringing the mixture to the "soft-ball" stage. Click HERE for an explanation of it (I hate it, can never get it right and I always use a thermometer). Some suggest that, because this recipe is not one that includes the addition of chilled butter to the mixture, the temperature should only be allowed to reach 210° F. (98.89° C). But it works fine for me to let them reach the higher temperature for just a moment before removing from the heat.



In memory of Robert H. Murrell
March 4, 1935 - February 28, 2005

This is a picture taken of my adopted-dad years.ago out in back of his tiny house in Waveland,.Mississippi (about 50 miles east of New Orleans at Hurricane Katrina's "ground zero" on the Gulf Coast).

This is what his and his neighbors' houses all looked like after Katrina got done with them - nothing but vacant lots littered with rubble and ugly, naked trees, with tiny shards of broken glass everywhere underfoot. The whole place looked like the lunar landscape at first after the storm; everything was such a mess that FEMA couldn't even identify his lot with the correct street address! It's all gone now, but I can go back to how I most remember it any time I like by filling my own home with the unmistakable aroma of a fresh-made batch of these pralines.

After a long, painful battle with lung cancer, he and I are both really lucky that he didn't have to live to see what Katrina did to his beloved, little house in the quiet, Mississippi pines.

Rest in Peace, Bob . . .

P.O. Box 579, Milwaukee, WI 53201 414-224-0668 Wisconsin State Bar # 1020925 -- New York Atty Reg. # 4308573