I typically enjoy my time spent in the kitchen. During the holidays, I have a constant rotation of cookies going into and out of the oven, while managing to never show up to a party without a pie in hand. It’s therapeutic and comforting to know that I’m feeding my family, not to mention neighbors, friends, teachers, and my husband’s entire office. That being said, what I found neither therapeutic nor comforting was trying my hand at pralines. It was perhaps the single most tedious thing I’ve done in recent memory—and that’s including the time I deep-cleaned my washing machine.
I should have known I was in for trouble when the recipe called for the use of a candy thermometer. We don’t have a great history, candy thermometers and me. I find that recipes involving their use are a bit too exact and unforgiving, and I'm typically not a patient creature. This weekend's pralines were no exception.
The recipe started with combining a bunch of ingredients in a sturdy pot. Easy enough. What wasn’t quite so easy was getting to the point where the mixture was perfectly smooth, and all the sugar granules had dissolved creating a sea of deep, dark caramel.
I stirred, I patiently waited, I hung in there well past the 5-to-8 minutes the recipe promised. About 30 minutes in (and with a crying baby in her highchair and a patient toddler who just wanted me to sit on the floor and do a puzzle with him) I called it and moved on to the next step. Maybe this was the demise of the perfectly set pralines I had imagined before beginning this confectionary journey. Had this happened three years ago, I would have thrown out the batch and started over. I would have done it as many times as necessary until I finally achieved exactly what I set out to create: the perfect Southern praline.
That isn’t what I did though. Instead I left my messy kitchen, rocked the baby to sleep for her nap, and reported back to the den just in time to help my son put the finishing pieces together on his puzzle—turns out the sheep had proven to be quite the challenge. I could relate.
When I got to the office on Monday, I shared my sad tale with one of our food editors. I learned she had similar troubles with her first batch of pralines but, unlike me, she had given it another go. We were able to figure out that the place where I truly went wrong was the final step that required gently boiling the mixture for 10 to 12 minutes. My burner was set too high, which made the temperature rise too quickly. Instead of turning down the heat (as I should have done), I relied too heavily on my frenemy the candy thermometer. Once the mixture hit a temperature of 135, I pulled it from the heat. What I should have done was lower the temperature of the burner enough to bring the mixture temperature down, while still boiling. Getting in the full 10-to-12-minute boil time is imperative.
WATCH: How To Make Pecan Pralines
I was almost convinced to try again after the reassuring conversation. Then I realized I should probably just hold off on holiday praline-making until my littles are no longer quite so little. Or maybe when Mama isn’t quite so sleep deprived. Better yet—maybe I’ll just leave the praline making to those who actually enjoy the process. I'll just be here, waiting for my talented (read: patient) friends to whip up the next delicious batch. Those who can't do, eat.