A lagniappe is a small gift from a merchant to a customer. Anyone who has dined at Brennan’s of Houston has probably snatched theirs from a silver tray near the front door—a thin, sugary praline chock full of pecan pieces.
Today, June 24, is National Pralines Day. In Houston, Brennan’s might be the best-known home for these. They’ve kept up the tradition since 1983. The pralines are made in the New Orleans way. They are slightly crispy on the outside but give way to a smooth, creamy texture that practically melts in the mouth.
Brennan’s of Houston makes around 1,000 pralines every day. During the holidays, when customers are buying boxfuls as gifts, the production ramps up to 3,000 or 4,000 a day. In fact, during the cooler months (when the pralines won’t melt in the mail), Brennan’s even offers online ordering and shipping. A box of 12 runs $25 plus shipping.
To celebrate National Praline Day, Brennan’s is sharing the recipe for its most famous confection for home cooks to try in their own kitchens. (The Houston Press originally published this way back in 2010. The recipe appeared in former executive chef/current general manager Carl Walker's 2001 cookbook entitled, Brennan's of Houston In Your Home.)
Here are some tips from Brennan's. Pralines are tricky and don't respond well to Houston humidity.
- Use a heavy whisk or wooden spoon for stirring
- Try to not over-stir, as this lightens the color too much
- Once you place them on the wax paper, leave them alone for at least an hour
Yield: 4 dozen
1 quart whipping cream
1 lb granulated sugar
1 Tbs light corn syrup
1 cup medium chopped pecans
Zest of 1 medium orange
1. Line three cookie sheets, preferably with parchment paper, but wax paper will work. Also have dessert spoons close by to spoon the pralines onto the parchment when it's time.
2. In a large heavy saucepan, slowly simmer cream, sugar, corn syrup, and orange zest over low heat. As cream mixture simmers, be careful of boil-over in the early stages. Let mixture reduce, stirring occasionally.
3. When cream mixture first starts to stick to bottom of pan, you need to stir almost continuously until done. As mixture reduces and the sugar starts to caramelize, the mixture becomes thicker and begins to turn light brown in color.
4. When mixture reaches the soft-ball stage of 240 degrees, stir in pecans. Continue stirring while looking for the point when mixture starts to pull away from sides of the pan.
5. Drop a small amount (quarter size) onto a lined cookie sheet. Look quickly to see if the praline runs out flat or holds a nice rounded top shape, and if the praline has a dull-looking appearance. Also, the mixture shouldn't have an oily look while in the saucepan; that means the mixture has cooked too long.
6. When ready, the mixture should be close to a firm-ball stage of 248 degrees. However, don't depend entirely on the candy thermometer.
7. Use two dessert spoons to spoon out the pralines onto the lined cookie sheets. Use one spoon to dip up the hot mixture and the other one to push it off into the paper.
8. You should be able to pick up a praline in about 30 minutes. It should appear dry and not be chewy. If after a couple of hours, you can't pick one up, leave them on the pans in a cool dry area for a day or two, until they dry out.