Pecan pralines are a type of caramel-based candy. Popular in the Southern United States and Europe, they consist of caramelized sugar and nuts. Though recipes vary, milk or cream, butter, and vanilla extract are often included when making candy pecans. Some traditional recipes also call for buttermilk instead of milk or cream.
In appearance, pralines largely resemble peanut brittle. They are bumpy, solid treats that are caramel in color. Though they are softer and richer than brittle, they can still be held by hand and eaten, generally without melting or crumbling much without added heat.
These pecan treats originated in France. Instead of pecans, however, the first pralines were made with almonds. The original pralines were hard, consisting of whole nuts submerged in a caramelized mixture. In Europe, the most common caramelized nuts are still almonds, though hazelnuts are also used to make pralines. Pecan pralines have been predominantly eaten in the United States since Louisianan chefs incorporated locally grown pecans into the original French recipe.
As cooks in the United States altered the recipe, they also changed its consistency. Rather than the hard, coated nut that Europeans had previously enjoyed, the American version changed into a softer, chewier treat with the addition of the cream, milk, or buttermilk. Many people compare the texture of pecan pralines to chocolate fudge. The nutty candies can even be incorporated into fudge if desired.
The process used for cooking pecan pralines typically begins with heating all ingredients, save for the nuts, over medium heat. The pecans are then folded in. The entire mixture is then spooned out onto a cooling surface, such as wax paper, and left to harden into the cherished Southern confection. Once complete, they can also be altered according to taste, such as by dipping them in milk or dark chocolate.
Some people add other elements into their praline mixtures, such as hard coated chocolate candies or pretzel pieces for saltiness. Some chefs also incorporate rum, cinnamon, or other flavoring agents into their recipes. Like other candies, pecan pralines are usually enjoyed alone as treats. Many people buy or make them around holidays or other special occasions and present them as gifts. They can also be incorporated into many different dessert recipes or toppings, such as ice cream.
Pronunciations for pecan pralines varies by region. In Southern states, the word praline is often pronounced "PRAW-leen," with a short "a." Across the rest of the county it is normally pronounced a long "a", i.e. "PRAY-leen."