Making candy is no picnic. It’s the closest that cooking comes to true chemistry — and not in a good way. But which of the Shakespearean Richards was it who said, “My kingdom for a sleeve of Dickies?” The candy, not the pants, of course.
It’s all Wichita Sims‘ fault — as usual. If she hadn’t brought me one of these delicious/disgusting pink nut patties from a recent road trip I would haven’t felt the necessity to turn some old almonds into sugary candy clusters — stat! I had eaten my one Dickie and I craved more. Candy making called.
I modified this recipe from All Recipes.com but it would have been useless without these comments from a contributor:
I’m from New Orleans and have been making pralines since I was a child. The proportions of this recipe are about right, but it leaves out the most essential step, which is beating the mixture after it reaches soft ball stage until it develops a matte sheen. The texture should have tiny crystals. The pralines should snap when you break them, and melt in your mouth. It takes some practice to know exactly when to stop beating — too soon and you have a translucent caramel. If you go too long, the mixture is too thick to spread when you’re dropping them. Another trick is to not stir the syrup after it starts boiling to prevent early crystallization. If you’re tempted to scrape down the sides, don’t do it — instead, cover the pot a couple of minutes and let the steam wash them down. Also, we always used raw pecans, not toasted. A pinch of salt brings out the flavor of the pecans.
Thank you, KikiNola! I’m indebted to you. I hadn’t made candy in years and without her tips, I’m convinced this vegan almond variation on the classic recipe wouldn’t have worked at all. I make crystals for science every year with my 4th graders and I know how finicky crystals can be.
The other big no-no? Making candy on a damp day. Moisture in the air interferes with the candy setting. That said, this recipe was dead easy. I only cooked the ingredients for a few minutes. I wasn’t going to use a candy thermometer either but while I watched the mixture boil, I panicked and hunted up my (previously unused) candy thermometer, determined that I was well past soft ball, and took the pot off the heat. Working on an electric range can be trying — less control — but if I could make this candy with all my caveats, anyone can. Even without real butter (or milk or cream — or fresh pecans as mentioned above!) they were melt-in-your-mouth delightful, and tastier than those pink Dickies that we love. Apologies to Wichita.
Vegan Almond Pralines
3/4 cup Earth Balance
1 1/2 cup almonds (I used roasted, salted Safeway brand and I used a mallet to crush them lightly in a Ziplock bag beforehand)
3/4 brown sugar (light or dark — your choice)
1 1/2 cups white sugar (I used ultra fine granulated sugar and this might indeed make it quicker to cook)
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 cup of almond milk (I used lowfat vanilla but full fat would probably be better and you could add vanilla extract separately)
Line something cold — like a piece of marble or a baking sheet — with parchment or waxed paper.
Combine all your ingredients in a good saucepan that heats evenly and holds several quarts (I used Revere which has a copper bottom but is non-reactive stainless). Mix well and bring to a boil. As KikiNola says above, you are watching for that matte sheen to take over your mixture. Alternatively, use a candy thermometer to determine when you are between 234 and 240 degrees (soft ball) or drop a tiny bit of the liquid into cold water to see if it forms a soft ball. I wasn’t sure from her instructions if I should be beating the mixture at this point or leaving it alone so I opted for the later and dropped it on the parchment. At first, it ran everywhere, leading me to believe that I had messed up and would be eating caramel almond syrup with my lactose-free yoghurt for the next few weeks.
It was good this way! Did you know that Yoplait has started selling lactose-free yoghurt? I gather that plenty of lactose-free folk can eat regular yoghurt but I’m not one of them so I’m happy about this development. Even better with liquid candy added too!
Be more patient than me right out of the gate and drop your mixture into blops of no more than two inches or so around onto your parchment and leave them for two hours (or more on a humid day). If you have cooked it enough, you will be rewarded with delicate little candies that will keep for about a week in a tin — if you can leave them alone that long. If not, you can scrape the whole thing into a container and pour it over ice cream. Either way, you’re a winner.