Four ingredients: brown sugar, cream, butter, pecans. How hard could it be?
Earlier this week, in a burst of culinary confidence, I made pralines. I used this recipe, because it seemed like I might actually be able to do it!
As I said: four ingredients!
What I don't have, however, is two baking sheets. My cooking equipment is -- how shall I put this -- haphazard. My baking sheet is kinda dented and the teflon coating is hit or miss. I do have a candy thermometer. And parchment paper. So -- I bought the ingredients and gave it a shot.
Based on the baking sheet situation, I made a strategic decision to only make half the recipe, which made things easier.
So. Mix cream and brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. (This is one of those instructions that I wish was more specific. How heavy is heavy? Is "heaviness" based on weight, thickness, material? Anyway, I have one largish saucepan, so that was that, regardless of heaviness. Besides, it's kinda heavy.)
I brought the mixture to a boil, then reduced the heat to medium-low, as instructed, and stuck the candy thermometer. Naturally, the clip that anchors the thermometer to the pan obscured the exact area of the temperature I was shooting for: 234 degrees, or "soft-ball" stage. Oh well.
The sweet mixture bubbled and bubbled and simmered and simmered, and I stirred and stirred and stirred and yet, the temperature did not budge beyond 200 degrees. So I upped the heat. Twice. And finally the temp hit somewhere around 234 degrees. I don't know, but I was sick of stirring by that point, so I called it a soft ball and took it off the heat and thunked in the butter.
So now you're supposed to just leave the stuff to cool off to 150 degrees without stirring or anything. So I did. (This is the easiest part, by the way.) Then I dumped in the pecans and beat the stuff silly. The recipe says to beat it until it starts to thicken but is still glossy, which is another subjective direction that I had a little trouble with. How glossy? How thick? So I beat it until my arm was tired. Then I dropped spoonfuls (spoonsful?) onto the baking sheet, which I had already lined with parchment paper. (I always feel very culinary when I line a baking sheet with parchment paper.)
Alas, they didn't really harden up all that well. Even after an hour, they were still pretty soft, so I shoved them in the fridge and that did the trick. I think I probably did not quite achieve the desired soft-ball state while I was cooking the delectable goo.
But I'll tell you what, even though I had to fridge-ify them, they are pretty damn delicious. I know why New Orleanians pronounce the word "Prahline" - because you eat 'em and say "Ahhhhhh, that's good!"
So today I bought a new candy thermometer, which has a specific mark for soft ball stage. (It also has marks for hard ball, soft crack, and hard crack, which are intriguing states of being, to say the least.)
They are too good not to try again, even with my haphazard cooking equipment.