The other day I received a holiday care package from my family that included some delicious roasted pecans that had been tossed in cinnamon and sugar. Knowing that I’d be writing about pecans it made me wonder what other things you can do with this tasty nut. Of course there’s the obvious and delicious pecan pie, a favorite of most southern homes. There is also the praline cookie, which came in the same care package. But what, exactly is a praline? And what are other popular desserts made with pecans? I wondered this while I’ll liberally snacked on my care package.
Well, first of all, a praline is traditionally a pecan-based treat even though overtime it has been co-opted by its equally delightful cousin, the almond. Initially, when the French settlers moved to New Orleans, bringing cream and sugar with them, they noticed that pecan trees were abundant. As such, they combined the cream and sugar with the pecan to make the praline. Now the name ‘praline’ has come to mean any type of nut and sugar confection but if you’re visiting New Orleans expect that praline you ordered to be pecan.
While you can definitely shell your own pecans and eat them raw, by far the most popular thing to do with them is make desserts. This is unsurprising because it’s a great topper to pies and cakes and roasts well on its own. Because it’s bittersweet when picked raw, a roasted pecan will release great flavors and come out of the oven buttery with a soft texture making it perfect for breads and ice cream. Butter pecan ice cream, anyone?
If you decide to roast the pecans, don’t just put them on a sheet pan in the oven. I’ve done this and it’s not that spectacular. If you really want to get the full effect of old fashioned roasted pecans, toss them in an egg white mixture first and then pop them in the oven. To make the pecans extra sweet and amazing, grab a shaker with some cinnamon and sugar and coat the pecans. What comes out of the oven is a small, snack-size, stand alone handful of scrumptious holiday cheer.
In addition to the pecan pie, the praline, and the old fashioned roasted, I’d like to add one more suggestion that’s not for the faint of heart; pecan maple fudge. The key to making deliciously sinful pecan maple fudge is fresh ingredients. Don’t skimp on the maple and instead buy the purest, thickest maple syrup you can find. Some recipes call for extract here but I disagree. Sure it’ll work but if you really want the full experience, use pure maple syrup. I like thick fudge and the purer the ingredients, the more dense it’ll be. But ask yourself what you want. For me, when I eat fudge, I want to really eat it and take in all the rich, sugar-inducing coma deliciousness I can stand. It doesn’t get any richer than pure maple syrup.
There are many other things to do with pecans in the dessert and baking world. It’s a resilient and versatile nut that can be consumed year round if stored properly. While I will no doubt consume my fair share of pecan pie this holiday season, I’m actually partial to the cookies. But for the truly decadent, I definitely recommend the fudge.