by Ellen Byron
Mystery author Ellen Byron shares with us a fun food guest post related to her book Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, along with a recipe.
Pralines are as synonymous with New Orleans as drunken Mardi Gras revelers, so when I was developing recipes for my debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, I wanted to include a recipe for the delicacy. But what exactly is a praline? On a recent trip to Louisiana, I did a little delicious research.
As with so much in this unique state, pralines are French in origin. Candymakers say that the ingredients are “sugar, sugar, and more sugar.” They kid. There’s butter in them, too, and lots of it, as well as cream or evaporated milk. And pecans. According to Linda, who mans the counter at the popular French Market shop, Aunt Sally’s Pralines, “In France, they used almonds. But plantation cooks tweaked the recipe to use what they had – pecans.”
At shops like Aunt Sally’s and Leah’s Pralines, an eighty-year-old confectionery on St. Louis Street in the heart of the French Quarter, pralines are made in copper kettles, just like they were a century ago.
“Copper kettles help with heat distribution,” explains Suzy, daughter of Leah’s Pralines owner Elna Stokes. When the temperature reaches 240 degrees, they’re ready to be turned into the familiar, tasty patties.
Pralines come in several varieties and an array of flavors. Original/Traditional are grainier than creamy; chewy pralines are like big caramels loaded with pecan pieces. Aunt Sally’s flavors include Original, Creamy, Chocolate, Bananas Foster, Café Au Lait, Triple Chocolate, Original, and Sugar and Spice. Leah’s features Traditional, Creamy, Rum, Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Coconut, and sometimes Sweet Potato, in addition to a mouthwatering selection of homemade chocolates and brittles and even a praline sauce.
Southern Candymakers on Decatur Street also sells sweet potato and coconut pralines, and I can personally vouch for their tastiness.
To be honest, my Chulane “Pralines” resemble these traditional candies only in that they’re sweet and flat. But they’re super easy to make, utilizing a microwave instead of a copper kettle. And they’re a bit gentler on the waistline, which is fine by me considering I just spent a week working my way through the rich samplings offered by praline shops all over New Orleans.
(A recipe created by my protagonist’s father, Tug Crozat, and named in honor of his alma mater, New Orleans’ Tulane University)
8 oz. unsweetened baker’s chocolate, melted in a microwave (or double boiler)
½ cup honey, warmed in a microwave
¼ teaspoon vanilla (you can substitute a liquor like rum or bourbon if you prefer)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup mix-ins, like chopped nuts, raisins, dried fruit (Tug’s favorites are raisins and slivered honeyed almonds)
Stir the honey into the melted chocolate. It will be soupy. Don’t worry about that.
Add the vanilla and salt, and stir. Mix in the mix-ins.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Drop the Chulanes onto the parchment by large spoonfuls.
Place in the freezer until the Chulanes harden, then store in the refrigerator. They will have a chewy consistency.