October isn’t the time to eat ice cream — at least it’s not expected. However, today in Chicago, temperatures are expected to reach 79℉. I’ve seen the words “Indian summer” floating around social media, but that doesn’t seem quite right. Indian summer just means unseasonably warm. But I think it’s losing its meaning — I can’t remember the last October when temperatures were chilly enough for coats and long pants. Rather, given the late starts we’ve gotten on the last few summers, I think the seasons are shifting. Regardless, it’s still ice cream weather and it gives me the favorable circumstances to make pralines and cream ice cream.
Pralines and cream is my favorite flavor of ice cream, but I might be the last person who still loves it. Someone told me recently that it’s an old lady flavor; I think that’s wrong. I am not an old lady. However old I am, I looked for it all summer but the jerk store down the street doesn’t carry it from any brand. What choice do I have besides making it myself? It’s a brilliant opportunity for experimenting in the kitchen. Rather than resenting the jerk store, I am grateful for it because it forces me to try something new.
My idea is to use a recipe from the Pinterest circuit for quick vanilla ice cream from Nestle. I’m dubious but curious — it uses sweetened condensed milk whipped with half and half and then frozen. Since it’s not a huge time/materials committment, I can fit it into my Sunday morning. Just fold in some chopped pralines and we have pralines and cream ice cream, methinks.
But before I can get to the easy part, I have to do the hard part: making a small batch of pralines.
Pralines (pronounce PRAW-leans), as we Americans know it, originated in New Orleans. Pastry chefs modified the French version which calls for almonds, but because of the abundance of pecan trees in the South, they used pecans. Now you can’t walk ten feet in the French Quarter without seeing a sign for house made pralines. Before I visited New Orleans, many people insisted I go to Cafe du Monde for beignets, but I think pralines are the must-try confections from the Big Easy. Beignets are just doughnuts. Pralines are just amazing.
If you’ve never had a real praline, they’re dreamy. They’re something like very dense, sweet and delicate cookies — only there’s no flour or eggs involved. It’s just sugar, butter, cream and, of course, pecans. I can’t keep them in my house — at least not in mass quantities because I WILL EAT THEM ALL. Saving the ones I make for the ice cream presents a bit of challenge, but I can exercise my self-discipline for a few hours.
Pralines are not difficult to make, but it can be frustrating. Timing is everything if you want the authentic flavor, texture and all-around deliciousness of pralines. They are an excellent example of where science and food intersect.. But I can’t explain the science of it. I just trust the method.
The following makes about five 3” pralines. Follow the method precisely.
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 TB unsalted butter
- 1 TB milk
- 1/2 cup pecan halves
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil (I use a silpat). Set aside.
- In a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, bring the brown sugar, butter, cream, and milk to a boil.
- Stir frequently as the mixture bubbles up. Keep this up until your candy thermometer reads 238℉ — this is the softball stage of heating sugar.
- Add the pecans and stir vigorously for 30 seconds before turning off the heat.
- Continue stirring and add the vanilla extract.
- Continue stirring for EXACTLY four minutes longer. The mixture should start getting a little stiff — this part is crucial. It should still be a very thick syrup when you spoon the mounds of nuts and sugar onto your cookie sheet.
Your clusters should not be shiny. If they are, you probably made either caramel or toffee, which are nothing like pralines, but both are delicious so they likely won’t go to waste. It took me a few tries to get it right, so don’t feel bad if they don’t turn out the first time.
Set aside to cool. Then chop them up to put in the ice cream.
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 7 oz. (half a can) of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- While you get the ingredients together, put the bowl of your stand mixer and the whip attachment in the freezer.
- Put the milk, cream and vanilla in the bowl and leave in the freezer for another 10 minutes or so — you want everything to be really cold.
- When you’re ready, beat everything on high for 3 minutes so the cream wraps itself around the tiny bubbles of air that the whipping creates.
- Return the bowl to the freezer for about an hour and a half.
- Beat the cream for another minute. Fold in the crushed pralines. Spoon the mixture into a container (I used a loaf pan) and freeze for another 3 hours or so.
It worked! Surprisingly, it tastes like real pralines and cream. And since it’s now 79℉, it’s a good time to eat ice cream.