I like to tell myself that I don’t like sweets. Most of the time, I even believe it when I say it. Then I find myself walking through downtown Charleston, head down while elbowing through the hordes of tourists, and it stops me dead in my tracks.
A smell so sweet, so rich, that the purveyors thought to put their kitchen in the front of the building, and let the rest of the store push beyond it into the back. All day long, they cook huge copper vats full of sugary goodness in front of open doors, pushing invisible waves of olfactory bliss throughout the crowded streets, drawing customers in to taste their treats: Pecan Pralines. I tell you, if you have not had a pecan praline before, you have not lived. I tell myself I don’t like sweets, and maybe that’s true. Maybe pralines are so good that even I, the self-proclaimed non-lover of sweets, must still love them. Full of nutty pecans smothered in a butter and sugar bath, pralines are ready to be consumed when they have cooled to room temperature, and can be broken into pieces with a quick snap. Bite into one with a crunch, but that crunch will immediately be followed by the candy around the pecan melting back into a sugary, caramel-y sauce in your mouth.
I used to think that the only way to have these little treats was to brave the crowds downtown and sneak into the touristy candy shop where they are made and sold, but recently I put some time into figuring out what I am sure is their recipe in my own kitchen. You will need a candy thermometer to get that perfect snappy-melty texture, but they can be had for well under $10 anywhere cooking supplies are sold ( even the grocery store! ).
- 2 cups whole pecans
- 6 Tablespoons butter
- 1½ cups white sugar
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- candy thermometer
- Toast the pecans ( optional, but delicious ): Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the pecans on a sheet pan and toast for 10 minutes. Remove the pecans and set aside.
- Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large saucepan with a heavy bottom over medium heat, add all of the ingredients ( including the pecans) and stir.
- Continue slowing stirring the ingredients as they heat until they are all combined into one syrupy liquid. Resist the urge to scrape the sides of the pan down, as that will add large crystals to your pralines.
- Stop stirring, and watch the candy thermometer. Once the liquid reaches somewhere between 235 and 240 degrees, remove it from the heat.
- Immediately whisk the mixture for about 45 seconds, then let it rest for 2 minutes.
- Using an ice cream scoop, quickly scoop out 15 - 20 pralines on the cookie sheets. They will be ready to eat as soon as they cool ( roughly 10 minutes ).