Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pecan Pralines with Yogurt Frosting

One of the American south’s most classic treats is the Praline (pronounced “praw-leen”), a confection made from nuts and a sweet coating. Some versions, especially in Europe where they originated, are hard (similar to peanut brittle) and use almonds. When French settlers brought them to Louisiana in the 1800’s, an American praline evolved using pecans and made with cream to give them a texture more like a firm fudge. Once you taste a praline’s crunchy rich sweetness, you’ll know why they’re still made and loved today.

In this version, we’ll reduce the fat content by using fat-free half-and-half in place of cream. Then, just because we can, we’ll top it with a frosting made from fat-free Greek Yogurt. (In general, I’ve found fat free half-and-half and fat free Greek yogurt can be valuable additions to your fat-reducing cooking arsenal.)

Some Cook’s Notes before we begin:
  • In the recipe that follows, you’ll note that making pralines can take several hours. Don’t be put off; almost all of that is inactive time, during which the pralines are cooling and getting firm, and you’re reading e-mails and practicing Zumba. 
  • We'll be heating the sugar mixture to 236 degrees, what candy-makers call "soft ball." Although there’s a way described below to do this that doesn’t require a candy thermometer, the use of a candy thermometer is strongly recommended. It’s easier and a lot more reliable, and something you’ll find to be a valuable item to have on hand for frying, candy making, etc.
  • Use caution when heating the sugar mixture, particularly when stirring. Hot sugar makes for one of the worst kitchen burns there is.

The number of pralines this recipe makes depends, of course, on how big you make them. If you make them about 1-1/2 tablespoons each, you’ll get about 28.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. When hot, place 2 cups of chopped pecans or pecan halves in a single layer on a baking sheet into the oven until toasted, about 10 minutes, turning them once.

In a saucepan, combine 1-1/2 cups of granulated (white) sugar, 1-1/2 cups of brown sugar and 1-1/2 cups of fat-free half-and-half.

Over medium heat, and stirring gently and very often, bring the mixture to 236 degrees (“soft ball”) as measured on a candy thermometer, or until a small amount dropped into a cup of very cold water forms a soft ball. (The thermometer is better to use.) Reaching “soft ball” over medium heat should take about 20 minutes, but cook this by temperature, not by time. As you can see in the photo, expect a good bit of frothing along the way.

Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool for about an hour.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and the toasted pecans, and stir till the pecans are well coated and the mixture is creamy and firm.

Spoon the mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet lightly coated with butter substitute, using about 1 to 1-1/2 Tbsp for each praline. Let rest for another 1 – 2 hours.

While the pralines are cooling, mix 1 cup of fat-free Greek yogurt and 2 cups of confectioners sugar till combined, and refrigerate until ready to use.

When the pralines are ready to be coated, begin preheating the oven to 225 degrees. Using tongs, dip the pralines one by one into the yogurt mix and place on a wire rack on a baking sheet. When the pralines are all coated and on the wire rack, turn off the oven and place the baking sheet into the oven with the door ajar for at least 4 hours to help the frosting firm up. (Cook’s note: In the batch I made for the photo at the top of this article, I decided to frost only half of the pralines and leave the others plain.)

When the coating has dried, place the pralines into an air-tight container. They should keep for at least three days, if no one eats them all before that!

Hope you enjoy making (and, of course, eating!) the sweet goodness of these delicious treats. Stop by again next week for more! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-) 


  1. It looks so beautiful. Should try this out sometime.

  2. Thank you, Hema. I hope you will!

  3. Looks delicious, Ben, and I will have to try this... BUT, I have a question: you mentioned using fat free half and half instead of cream... Would it be OK to use fat free half and half instead of heavy cream in OTHER recipes, as in making a sauce??? As you can see, I'm TRYING to think of ways to do things healthier, Ben! Maybe your advice will penetrate and get through my thick Brooklyn brain yet! LOL!
    Thanks for your help.

  4. Hi Gloria, and thanks. :-) I've found fat-free half-and-half to be a good way to reduce the fat in soups, sauces, and other recipes calling for cream. (Makes good corn meal cheese grits too!) Just remember to add it slowly and heat it gently to keep it from separating. I'm glad you like it!

  5. Is there anything else the pralines can be coated with, because neither my husband or myself (or our kids if they visit) like yoghurt?

  6. Hi Maree! As an alternative, you might want to try either drizzling some chocolate on them, or dipping them completely. (Ironically, avoiding chocolate, since my wife is allergic to it, is what led me to use the yogurt coating.) Another way to avoid the yogurt would be not to coat the pralines at all, they way they are often made. Hope this helps!