Thursday, January 9, 2014

Farm Journal Texas Pralines

My husband and I have loved pralines since the early 1970s when he first made them for me, using a recipe called Praline Prize Winners from Farm Journal's Homemade Candy cookbook. We lived in northern Oklahoma at that time, and winter weekends would find me curled up under a blanket. My husband would sneak into the kitchen while I dozed, make pralines, then bring me one fresh and warm from the pan. Nothing said love to me quite like that warm sugary treat. One of my best memories!

Through the years I have tried to emulate those early year pralines, but mine are never as good as his. He likes his pralines with that sugar gritty graininess , and I prefer mine lightly crunchy but smooth. I tried Homesick Texan's recipe in this post from my old blog and it was good but didn't quite hit the spot.

This past weekend I was craving creamy pralines so I pulled out the old candy cookbook. I decided to make Texas Pralines, which differ from that original recipe by the addition of corn syrup and a slightly different technique. I added Mexican vanilla and sprinkled with a little sea salt, and while I loved the flavor of these they were actually too creamy! They were perfect around the edges, but inside was a bit like frosting. I managed to put away several of them, but next time I will return to husband's original recipe. And let him make them!

Texas Pralines
adapted from Farm Journal's Homemade Candy

3 cups light brown sugar
1 cup half and half
3 tablespoons light or dark corn syrup
1/3 cup salted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Mexican vanilla)
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
Kosher or sea salt

Combine sugar, half-and-half, corn syrup, and butter in 3 quart heavy saucepan. Stir to combine; bring to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Cook to soft ball stage (238 degrees) and remove from heat. Cool to lukewarm (110 degrees) without stirring. Add vanilla and pecans and beat until mixture changes color and begins to thicken.

Quickly spoon heaping teaspoons onto waxed paper or parchment paper, making circles 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Makes about 24 pralines.

My husband held this pan while I took photos with my smartphone, and his finger is featured in this photo.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

snickerdoodles, cakes, and a creche cloth

My husband is the Business Director of a church in The Woodlands, and he asked me if I would make a tablecloth for the nativity figures that grace the narthex during Advent. After measuring the table, I went to JoAnn Fabric and chose a creamy gold brocade with tiny crosses.

I mis-calculated the width of the fabric and had to put in some tucks to make it fit the table, but several commented they liked the added interest. I did purchase additional fabric and intend to make the cloth a true round tablecloth for next Advent season.

The engagement of my daughter and her fiance was celebrated at the home of my son and his wife in December. I made them a cake of entwined hearts with the logos of their respective universities. For Jenni's Oklahoma University cake I baked this 1-2-3-4 cake, and for Chris's Texas Tech cake I made Ina Garten's Beatty's Chocolate Cake. I'm really not bragging, but both cakes were delicious. The 1-2-3-4 cake was sturdy but tender and flavorful - everything you would want in a yellow cake. The chocolate cake was moist and chocolatey and addictive. Both were frosted with buttercream made with butter, a bit of cream cheese, powdered sugar, and cream.

Snickerdoodles and Nestle Tollhouse Cookies

Yesterday we went to my son's house for a New Year's Day feast of sliders, homemade guacamole, caramelized red bell peppers and onions, and jalapeno slices that my son sautes in coconut oil until they are crispy. They purchased To-Go salsa, queso, and chips from Chili's. Everything was so, so good! I made cookies - chocolate chip and snickerdoodles. On a whim I followed the old tried and true standard Nestle's Tollhouse Cookies recipe on the back of the chocolate chips package, and after all the chocolate chip cookie recipes I've tried the last few years, my family declared these the best! I always cut back on the salt, because I use salted butter, and I use Mexican vanilla which imparts a delicate whisper of cinnamon. I really don't know why I ever tried any other recipe.

The snickerdoodles were a hit, and the recipe is adapted from the recipe on Joy of Baking website.

Makes 4-6 dozen

2-3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup salted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sugar mixture:
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In large bowl whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. Combine sugar and cinnamon, set aside.

In another bowl using electric or hand mixer, beat butter and sugar until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes; add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until mixture is fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture and mix on low until dough is smooth. Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to roll into balls, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1-inch round balls, roll in sugar mixture, and place on sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Use bottom of glass, gently flatten each cookie to about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake cookies 8 - 10 minutes, or until light golden brown around edges. Let cookies sit on pan for 5 minutes, then place on wire rack to cool.