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.
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More Praline recipes you might enjoy: