I had never had pralines before I went to New Orleans and couldn’t wait to try them.They sounded so exotic and tempting and Southern, with maybe a hint of French thrown in, too.
Penuche, on the other hand is an old friend. I’ve made it nearly every Christmas for years and years. Penuche, for those who don’t know it, is a brown sugar fudge. I make it with walnuts because their bitter edge helps balance the sugary sweetness of the candy.
Having penuche at Christmas is one of those traditions that snuck up on me. After a few years of making it, it was expected. People complained if I forgot. Now penuche is as traditional in my family as a tree or presents and as familiar as fruit cake.
Penuche was an old pal, but pralines were a tempting, romantic stranger. Pralines were a big part of the reason I wanted to go to New Orleans. So I went. I tasted. I was disappointed. So disappointed.
It’s probably that devil high-fructose corn syrup, but pralines are tooth-achingly sweet. The pecans they’re made with don’t help, since they have no bitter edge to them. And the texture of pralines is too compact and dense.
But the biggest surprise to me was their similarity to the penuche I take for granted. Pralines resemble penuche in flavor, but are nowhere near as good. To me, they’re nothing but a sappier, less interesting version of penuche.
I’ll take penuche over pralines anytime. Sometimes, old loves really are the best.
Here’s the recipe I use to make penuche. It’s the simplest I’ve seen and the best.
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup chopped walnuts
Cook the sugar and milk together until the mixture forms a soft ball. Remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl.
Stir in the walnuts and keep stirring until the mixture sugars around the edge of the bowl.
Pour into an eight-inch buttered pan. Cut before it sets too firmly.