Last Tuesday our friend Aaron celebrated his final day in the Navy at Handsome Francis’ rooftop deck in Adams Morgan. We were thrilled to help celebrate Aaron’s official arrival to DC to work on some fancy pants nuclear stuff and, most importantly, live in the District full time. To mark the occasion, Handsome Francis asked everyone to bring a little something over for the party. I quickly volunteered to bring a dessert and selected a pecan-bourbon praline recipe from our Tartine cookbook, thinking it was a great modern update to the Cracker Jack – favorite snack of cartoon sailors everywhere! 

Tartine is a magical little bakery in the Mission district of San Francisco and we made the most of a rainy morning there on our most recent visit. I’d already had a good experience making gougeres from the Tartine cookbook and, candy thermometer in hand, felt confident about tackling the pralines. 

There are few ingredients included in the recipe, further bolstering my confidence that this would be a snap. Plus, it meant I got to cook with bourbon. Which of course meant I got to drink bourbon while cooking. Is there no happier synchronicity? 

The gist of this recipe is pretty basic. Mix sugar, cream, butter, salt, molasses and bourbon in a heavy saucepan until it hits 240 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes. Let it cool to 210 degrees, add the pecans, stir and pour onto a baking pan. In theory, this should harden into golden candies. Somewhere here, something went awry. Instead of hardening, the candy mixture just stayed sugary and grainy. Even after cooling overnight, the mixture was too soft to be “broken” per the directions and served. Granted, it was a delicious screw up. I mean, with those ingredients how could it not be? I had several spoonfuls with a glass of milk that night while hoping it would harden up. No such luck. Looking back on the directions, I wonder if I didn’t let the mixture boil at 240 for long enough, which kept the sugar from dissolving? When I read the directions the first time, I thought it said it would take 7 to 10 minutes for the mixture to get Pecan Pralinesto the right temperature. Maybe I should have kept it at that temperature for 7 to 10 minutes? I wrote out the directions on this point just as they are in the book. You be the judge.

I’m open to trying the recipe again. In the meantime, the dessert fail gave us the silver lining of getting to try Sticky Fingers Bakery for the first time as an emergency dessert replacement. 

Pecan-Bourbon Pralines, from Tartine

2 cups pecan halves, toasted
3 cups of sugar
1 cup of heavy cream
4 tb unsalted butter
1/4 tb salt
1 tb molasses
2 tb bourbon (plus more for sipping at your leisure)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a deep, heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients except the pecans. Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up any lumps. Bring to a boil and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registeres 240 F on a thermometer, 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how vigorously the mixture is boiling. Remove from heat and let cool to 210F.

Add the pecans to the sugar mixture and stir quickly.  According to the book, the mixture will thicken quickly. This didn’t happen for me. I guess it should have been a sign. Pour the sugar mixture onto the prepared sheet and lete cool. Once cool, break into pieces.