The History Of American Pralines

Praline (Pra·line) Definition:


  • A smooth, sweet substance made by boiling nuts in sugar and grinding the mixture. Used especially as a filling for chocolates.
  • A crisp or semi-crisp candy typically consisting of butter, brown sugar, and pecans.

Praline was originally inspired in France by the cook of Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1598–1675), with the word praline deriving from the name PraslinEarly pralines were whole almonds individually coated in caramelized sugar, as opposed to dark nougat, where a sheet of caramelized sugar covers many nuts. The European chefs used the local nuts of France. Specifically, almonds and hazelnuts.

The History Of American Pralines In The South

The late Jamie Shannon in his book Commander’s Kitchen says, “Walk through the French Quarter . . . and every so often you’ll pass a doorway from which wafts the aroma of burnt sugar or molasses- not a bitter smell, but a sweet, intoxicating one. It can mean only one thing…pralines.” Jamie cautions us that the word is PRAW-leens, and in his view they shouldn’t be chewy or made with chocolate. His recipe: cup of sugar, cup of heavy cream, cup of pecans, and he adds a little orange zest.

It seems that every cook in the South had a personal version of this remarkable candy . Purists say it is just sugar and pecans. For example, in 1903, Celestine Eustis’s book on Creole cooking calls for two cups of brown sugar, half a cup of water, and a cup of pecans. Diane Spivey covered the history of American pralines while writing about the global migration of African cuisine. She sings the praises of a much more complicated praline. Her version has butter, cream, white sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, vanilla, and, of course, pecans.

Food historian, John Edge, favors a recipe with a helping of corn syrup. In Austin, Texas, the famous Lammes Candy Company makes chewy pralines with caramel, using a 108-year-old recipe. Another deli­cious version comes from our friend Nancy McAfee, who got it from her husband’s Texas grandmother. She also uses Karo, plus a little salt, baking soda, butter, rum, and bourbon, along with the sugar and nuts.

Defining The Praline More Broadly

In the old Picayune cookbook, writers gathered the traditional Creole recipes at the beginning of the last century. They defined the praline more broadly as, “a distinc­tive Creole sugar cake made of cocoanut and sugar or pecans and sugar.” Sometimes the “cocoanut” pralines would be given a rose color with the addition of red food colorings like cochineal (made of dried insects) or carmine.

The children of the neighborhood were as fond of the white or pink coconut pralines as they were of the darker pecan ver­sion. So old-time pralines were made with either white sugar and shredded coconut or brown sugar and pecans. (Find out about the Nutritional Benefits of Pecans here.) Confectioners sometimes used almonds or peanuts instead of pecans. There is another version called La Colle, which uses molasses and pecans to make a praline.