Named after a seventeenth-century diplomat, César du Plessis-Praslin, and one of the great delicacies of Louisiana Creole cuisine for more than three hundred years, pralines today come in every flavor and texture imaginable. (Ultrasoft ones with orange rind are a favorite at Mardi Gras, and in New Orleans at Christmas, you even find some dyed pink.) Sinfully rich, pralines couldn’t be easier to make, the one requirement being a candy thermometer to indicate the exact instant the caramelized mixture reaches the soft ball stage. (You can drop a small amount of the hot mixture into ½ cup of cold water and roll the glob between your thumb and index finger to see if a soft ball forms, but this technique is very chancy.) This particular recipe (one of the best I know) comes from an old-fashioned Mississippi belle who had no use for classic Louisiana pralines. “Those folks have still never learned that praline batter must be beaten for the candy to have the right texture,” Dibby would rave indignantly. And I think she made a good point, since these are indeed lighter and more delicate than New Orleans pralines. Do take note that all pralines lose much of their subtle flavor and soft delicacy (even in airtight containers) after about 2 weeks. And take special pride in your pralines with the knowledge that the ones you find in quaint shops of New Orleans, Savannah, and Charleston now cost an exorbitant buck apiece!
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the pecans and mix till well blended. Cook, stirring, over moderate heat till the mixture registers 240°F on a candy thermometer. Cool the mixture slightly, then beat with a wooden spoon till creamy. Add the pecans and stir till well blended and smooth. Drop the batter by heaping teaspoons onto waxed paper and let the pralines cool completely before serving or storing in airtight containers.
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