Blog Pecan Praline Cookies
There is so much to celebrate in February! Right on the heels of Valentine's Day comes another holiday devoted to indulgence, Mardi Gras, which this year falls on February 16. Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," is actually the culmination of a celebration that begins on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas, also known as King's Day. It's intended as the last hurrah before the somber season of lent, a chance to eat, drink and be merry. And in New Orleans, they've taken that sentiment to heart.
For well over a century, Mardi Gras has been synonymous with New Orleans Thanks to its population of French Catholic settlers, the Crescent City first started celebrating this festival in a big way in 1857, with parties and parades. About 40 years later, the Krewe of Rex, one of the original organizers of the festivities, chose purple, green, and gold as the emblematic Mardi Gras colors. Today, these colors decorate all things Mardi Gras, from revelers' costumes to the beads and trinkets (known as "throws") tossed from the floats into the crowd, to the sugar-coated ring-shaped king cakes eaten throughout the carnival season.
Although king cake is perhaps the food most closely associated with Mardi Gras, it's not the easiest recipe to adapt as a rolled cookie (where would one hide the plastic baby?). But another traditional New Orleans treat, the praline, translates beautifully. These super-sweet brown sugar confections date back to 17th century France, and in their original form are candy coated almonds. When Creole cooks in New Orleans started making pralines, they used local pecans. Pralines (make sure you say PRAH-leens) are made by cooking brown sugar, butter, and cream or evaporated milk to the soft-ball stage, then stirring in pecans. The result is a soft, creamy candy that reminds me of maple sugar candy or penuche fudge.
While this week's cookie recipe is inspired by pralines, it's a bit easier to make: you don't need to use a candy thermometer or worry about cooking the sugar to a certain stage. The pecan shortbread base supports just enough brown-sugar icing for authentic praline flavor without giving you a toothache. If you can't get to Mardi Gras, these cookies will give you a little taste of New Orleans. Laissez les bons temps rouler!