A tribute to my Cajun heritage……
History of Pralines
Pralines are a French dessert typically made with almonds or hazelnuts. Legend has it that pecan pralines became “a thing” when Ursuline nuns tossed pecans into the praline mixture because they had no almonds or hazelnuts. Others claim that pralines were named for the Duke of Choiseul-Praslin in France where pralines originated as one of those happy accidents….you know, like the discovery of penicillin. What we do know is that pecan pralines are truly a New Orleans dessert that were made famous thanks to African-American women who are credited with not only creating the shape of the pecan praline but also the recipe of the pralines we know today. New Orleans pralines have such a rich history and tradition as one of the first street foods. The shape and appearance of the praline has been compared to the murky swamps of Louisiana. The history of pecans has strong ties to the African-American culture as emancipated slaves made the pralines as a means of income. For more on this rich history, click here to read a wonderfully written article detailing the cultural ties of one of New Orleans signature desserts. Recipes were passed down from generation to generation and many families had their own recipe as a closely held secret.
Growing up all over the state of Louisiana, my fondest memories were always visiting my grandparents in LaPlace, LA. We would drive all day and arrive when it was dark outside. I remember walking into their house right into the kitchen where my grandmother would be standing at the stove cooking gumbo or rice and gravy. Thinking of the aroma of the food cooking on the stove takes me back to those days. The long green table in the kitchen/dining room where bourre games would go long into the night while my sister and I slept on the sofa bed in the next room; sitting on the red swing outside and petting Smokey, their gray cat; driving in the car sitting between my grandparents in the middle seat that was in the front of the car because I was the youngest. The case of cookies my grandfather had from his friend who worked for Nabisco who we affectionately called “the cookie man.” And the food…..all family visits and family gatherings were centered around the food. There was always a pot of something on the stove (gumbo, red beans, etouffee) that was served over rice, which was in the other pot on the stove and a big bowl of potato salad that would be spooned on top of the gumbo. Sometimes we’d cover the green table with newspaper and have a shrimp boil with potatoes and corn or a crawfish boil. I remember after the crawfish boil, the women of the family would sit around the table gathering up all the leftover crawfish meat (from the tails) and save all the abdomen shells and other parts to make a crawfish stock or a shrimp stock and stuff later for making etouffee.
Pecan pralines and red velvet cake were had on special occasions. I can remember my mom making pralines every Christmas for us to have. We always knew when the kitchen counters were covered with newspaper and wax paper on top what was happening that day. We also knew to stay out of the kitchen and not bother my mom because cooking pralines was a bit of a delicacy. My grandmother’s recipe doesn’t have any kind of cooking time associated with it. She could just feel it when the pralines were ready. This is the same recipe that has been passed down to all of us and I have far more trouble “feeling” my way to making pralines. Maybe with more practice….Instead, I have started making other pecan praline desserts. The dessert I have for this blog post is a pecan praline shortbread bar. I love love love shortbread and pralines so marrying the two together seemed like it could be a match made in heaven. And boy, was I right. If I may toot my own horn, these bars are so rich and tasty. Have a cup of coffee or a glass of milk with these babies.
Pecan Praline Shortbread Bars
For this recipe, I used a standard shortbread recipe like the one you can find here.
Pecan Praline Shortbread Bars
A yummy twist on a New Orleans favorite.
- 1 c butter (softened)
- 3/4 c powdered sugar
- 2 1/2 c all purpose flour
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 c brown sugar
- 1/2 c half & half
- 1/2 c pecans
- 1 pinch salt
Preheat oven to 350. Beat 1 cup softened butter until creamy. Add in powdered sugar and beat butter and powdered sugar until they are combined. Add 1 tsp vanilla and beat until vanilla is incorporated into the butter powdered sugar mix. Add in flour 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition to mix the flour. You may have to fold in the last bit of flour with your hands or a spatula. Press shortbread into bar mold or into an 8×8 pan. For the bar pan, I make sure to leave a little bit of room for toppings. With a fork, make some hold in the shortbread. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes. I like to leave these a bit underdone so they are soft and chewy.
While the shortbread is cooling, make the praline topping. Melt 2 Tbsp. butter and 1/2 c. brown sugar in a small pan over medium heat. Add in a pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Slowly add in half and half and whisk until incorporated. Cook for an additional 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add pecans if you want to at this stage and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Alternatively, place pecans on top of shortbread bars. When the mixture has cooled, remove shortbread bars to a wire rack. Pour praline mixture over the top of the bars and let it set for about 10-15 minutes.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. If you make them, drop a comment to let me know how they turn out.
The Nerdy Cajun Chef