When I was a little girl, my dad used to always make buttermilk pralines each Christmas. He was a big, funny, jolly man who truly embraced life. A composer and professor, he loved music, people, and things of a sensual nature. And there ain’t much more good to put in your mouth than a praline, my friends.
After he passed away many years ago, I decided to make it a tradition of sorts, to have around the house and to give to friends at the holidays. Each year I try to remember how to make the damn things. They actually aren’t hard to make at all, if you know how to make them. But if you go for 12 months without practice…..See the trick is all in the timing and the heat. Not enough you get glue, too much you get glass, basically.
Afer much searching, I couldn’t find my index card with my mother’s transcription on it, so I relied on Google for a recipe. It looked right…Buttermilk, sugar, baking soda, butter (hmm, I didn’t remember that), pecans and vanilla.
I set to cooking it and watching the white creaminess turn darker and darker and get thicker and thicker, but when my candy thermometer reached 238 and I began the beating….the mixtured turned into taffy, not my dad’s pralines.
AHA! No butter! That’s the secret non-ingredient, folks. Butter makes the pralines chewy, and I like mine with more of a crumbly brown sugar texture.
The next batch looked much different, but when I ladled the little candies onto the wax paper….they just puffed out oddly for a second, then seized up like sweet pecan-y rocks. I was exhaused at this point, and gave up. I think I probably used a tiny bit too much of soda and it went just past the soft ball stage.
Finally, a third time and I got it right. It is a practice, like anything else. A chemistry and an art with a bit of instinct and magic. And practice.
Like anything worth doing, it takes time to learn. I find a connection to my father through these candies, even when I’m not the one to make them. He passed too soon, and I didn’t get that many Christmases with him, but I make his pralines, and I play his music and there is a moment and that is enough.
Don Gillis’ Buttermilk Pralines
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups sugar
1 tsp soda
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla
In a deep heavy pot, combine the buttermilk, sugar and soda. Heat to a rapid boil, stirring constantly, then cook over medium high until candy thermometer reads 238 or a drop of the mixture makes a soft ball in cold water. The volume will decrease slightly and the color will be a brown-sugar tone. It will smell heavenly.
When the correct temp is reached, immediately remove from heat and add pecans and vanilla and beat for a couple of minutes.
Mixture will begin to solidify, so drop small spoonfuls immediately onto wax paper (and for heaven’s sake be careful cause this is hot as hell and sticky).
If the alchemy has worked, what you will get is a flat, thinish candy that breaks easily and has a grainy crumbly texture that melts in your mouth.
If you don’t like pecans, you can use almonds, walnuts what have you. You can also easily add cocoa, coffee flavoring etc. And if you want to try them chewy, just add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup butter during the beating portion of the recipe.
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