Monday, December 31, 2007
As God Is My Witness
I'll never make pralines the old-fashioned way again.
Because in the three years I've dedicated myself to finding the perfect praline recipe, not only have I ingested enough sugar to keep all the dentists in the known universe in Mercedes and strippers, I have also reached levels of frustration that no one with my sensibility should ever have to reach. Yes, I like a challenge. What I do not like, is beating my head against a wall. It hurts.
To be sure, candy-making is fussy, fussy business. First, there are the vagaries of temperature – soft ball, hard ball, crackle stage. Then the chemistry involved in sugar crystal formation. Or, in the case of pralines, inhibited sugar crystal formation. Because nothing is worse than a grainy praline. Or one that's rock hard. The perfect praline is, instead, the absolute perfect melding of sugar, cream, butter, vanilla, and pecans into a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth confection that is firm but never crisp. And never, ever rock hard. That's brittle, Party People, not pralines.
Anyway. Over the past three years, I'd say I've reached success about 67.23 percent of the time. The other 32 some odd times, I ended up with either puddle or brittle. And a bit of a cry.
But no more. Our first night in Louisiana, my mother-in-law naturally laid out a bounteous spread for Christmas Eve noshing. 'Course, my focus was all on the sweet stuff – the chocolate pudding cake, the lemon ice box pie, the divinity, the fudge, and, oooo, what's this? A plate of perfect-looking pralines? So, I inquired, you've obviously mastered the trick of it. No, my mother-in-law replied. There is no trick. It's all done in the microwave.
Of course, I was blessed with the recipe, courtesy MIL's friend Nell Rogers. And I finally felt sufficiently de-stuffed last night to give these a go.
They're pretty much near perfect. The only difference I notice is perhaps a tad less depth of flavor that I believe is probably best achieved with the long-ass slow-cook time necessitated by the traditional method, which allows the caramel flavors to bloom more fully. Still. I think these are delicious enough to warrant the slight loss.
So, without further hesitation, here is Ms Rogers' recipe, with only one addition by Moi:
16 ounces (one pound or two cups) firmly packed light brown sugar
8 ounces (one cup) cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (Moi's addition)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 cup pecan halves (toasted if you wish*)
Lay out two sheets of newspaper at least four pages thick along kitchen counter and cover with wax paper.
Into a large, deep microwave-proof bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cream, and corn syrup. Microwave on high for about 10 minutes, or until a candy thermometer reaches 235º F or the soft ball stage (check your mixture at 8 minutes).
Remove bowl from microwave (Carefully. The bowl will be super duper hot, so use your mittens and be careful not to drop. Likewise, resist all temptation to stick your finger into the mixture.) Immediately add the butter, vanilla, and pecan halves. Stir, stir, stir with a sturdy, long-handled wooden spoon until mixture starts to lose its sheen, cloud up, and thicken slightly, about a minute to two minutes. At that point, immediately spoon out onto your sheets of wax paper. The consistency we're looking for here is a mixture that will immediately hold its shape when dropped without spreading into a puddle, but not so thick you can't get it off the spoon. I've heard that if the mixture sets up too hard too quickly, you can add a tablespoon or so of water and re-microwave until you reach the proper consistency. But I think you've then blown the sugar crystal inhibition thing. Although, the product will probably taste just as good.
*To toast pecans, place pecan halves on a baking sheet and roast in pre-heated 350º F oven for 10-15 minutes, turning once. Be careful not to burn.
Enjoy. But one at a time. Otherwise, you may as well apply directly to your thighs and skip the mouth thing entirely.