Listening to Celia Cruz’s “Azúcar Negra” inspired this dish one day as I walked among the oaks of New Orleans City Park. These pralines are a mix of my maternal grandmother’s Mississippi belief that every dinner should include dessert, my mother’s mastery of traditional “pecan candy”, and my own nod to the tropical influences present in New Orleans, often called the northern-most city of the Caribbean.
What you’ll need:
A minute timer
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
6 ounces evaporated milk
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 stick butter
2 tsp rum extract
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
A small cup of ice cold water
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
2 18-inch sheets of wax paper or foil
What I did:
Assemble all of the ingredients prior to starting this project so that you stay focused. This candy can burn easily if not watched carefully. Once you’ve done it a few times you’ll be able to do it on the fly, but until then it’s important to keep a careful eye on the process.
Set your timer to 35 minutes.
Place a large pot or Dutch oven over a medium fire and place one tablespoon of the granulated sugar in the middle of the pot. Over the next 3-4 minutes, the sugar will begin to melt. If the pot begins to smoke, turn the fire down to medium-low.
Once the sugar is almost completely melted, place the remainder of the granulated sugar, the dark brown sugar, the evaporated milk and the condensed milk in the pot and stir, using a whisk or the back of a large spoon to break up any clumps of sugar and to slowly and gently scrape up the melted sugar off the bottom of the pot. Don’t worry about the hard bits you might encounter; they will dissolve during the cooking process. You should have about 28-30 minutes left on your timer.
At about the 25-minutes-left mark of your timer, the mixture should begin to gently boil. Add the butter here, stirring gently and constantly to avoid burning on the bottom of the pot. (If you notice burning, reduce the fire to low.)
At the 20-minutes-left mark, add the rum and vanilla extracts and continue to stir for another eight minutes or so. The mixture will begin to noticeably thicken.
When you hit the 12-minutes-left mark, place a few drops of the mixture into your small cup of ice-cold water and let it sit for about 30 seconds or so. Carefully pour the water out of the cup and gather the candy drops between your fingers. You should be able to make a fairly firm ball. If the candy does not firm up, continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes and test again. Be sure to use very COLD water for your test.
At about the 5-minutes-left mark, turn the fire off and add the shredded coconut, gently folding it in completely. Use a spoon to drop the candy into mounds on wax paper or foil before it hardens up.
Let the candy cool for 40 minutes to an hour, gently pulling back the wax paper or foil to make sure the candy lifts without sticking.
This recipe yields about 21 small pralines or 12 medium pralines.