Pralines! We all think of them having roots in the South, especially Louisiana and more specifically New Orleans. However, pralines are one of the most popular recipes adapted from old French traditions.
The Ursuline nuns, who settled in New Orleans in 1727, were in charge of young women sent over by France to marry New Orleans’ colonists. Their domestic training from the nuns included the art of praline making. These young women known as the “casket girls” (they arrived in America with all their worldly possessions in a casket box), were handpicked from orphanages and convent schools and charged to the church. The nuns were to mold them into women with high moral standards, even though they were coming from less fortunate circumstances, and therefore would be good wives for the settlers. It is these women who brought many of the French culinary traditions to New Orleans and are the foundation of creole cooking and praline making in that part of the Southern United States.
Isn’t history fascinating?
The original praline was made from almonds and creamy caramel, however, the almond supply in Louisiana was scarce. Therefore, the native-Louisiana pecan trees became the popular nut to use instead. The pecan praline became a large part of the economy in New Orleans and were sold on street corners throughout the city.
Now, when in New Orleans, the pronunciation of this sweet confection is “prah-leen”, with a long aaah sound, which is close to its original French name, “du Plessis-Praslin”. However, if you are in Texas, parts of New England or Savannah and here in the West, “pray-leen” is the most common pronunciation.
I have taken liberty with the traditional praline recipe and used my favorite nut, the cashew and added a bit of Kahlua for good measure. Most commonly pralines are made from nuts, dairy and sugar. I like using full-fat buttermilk, which ensures a non-grainy texture.
You cannot make pralines without a candy thermometer. The mixture must be brought to soft-ball stage (235 degrees F), with constant stirring.
They are a gorgeous addition to any holiday treat platter and look very festive in holiday inspired cupcake wrappers.
It’s hard to eat just one.
Kahlua Cashew Pralines
- 2 cups roasted and salted cashews
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup full-fat buttermilk
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 Tablespoons Kahlua
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Add cashews to a large nonstick skillet and toast over low heat just until fragrant. Set aside.
- Prepare two baking sheets by lining with parchment paper. A marble slab also works well, no parchment needed.
- Grease the sides of a large heavy-bottomed pot (I use my 7 quart Dutch oven) with butter. Add and combine sugar, buttermilk, brown sugar, corn syrup and baking soda over medium heat. Insert candy thermometer and bring mixture to a boil, stir gently and continuously until soft ball stage of 235 degrees F is reached. (I would suggest wearing long sleeves and an oven glove to prevent any burns from the sugar mixture.)
- Remove from heat and stir in butter, Kahlua and vanilla (it will sputter a bit). When butter is melted let mixture stand anywhere from 3-20 minutes (depending on humidity in your area) until mixture is a thik caramel. Stir in cashews with a wooden spoon until the mixture no longer looks glossy. Spoon mounds onto prepared baking sheets, using two spoons. Allow to set about 30-45 minutes. If mixture seems really thick, add a little bit of hot water to make the mixture stir-able again.
- Keep for two weeks in a sealed container. Store between sheets of waxed paper.
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More Praline recipes you might enjoy: