Old Fashioned Southern Pecan Pralines
Old fashioned Southern pecan pralines are pecan clusters coated in a buttery, caramely candy, and this recipe is a small-scale version of the exact ones they make at the candy stores downtown Charleston, SC, Savannah, GA, and New Orleans!
These pralines are made with five simple ingredients in under 30 minutes, and they’re perfect for shipping to friends and family! In my video and step-by-step photos, I show you how to identify the correct time to take your pralines off the heat, even if you don’t have an instant-read thermometer.
If you’ve ever walked downtown Charleston, you may have tasted a pecan praline from Market Street Sweets, sugary, buttery and still warm from being freshly made. The mouthwatering smell of hot sugar wafts into the street and lures unsuspecting tourists and residents alike like a siren song of scent. It’s nearly impossible to turn down a free sample.
When you go into the store (and of course, you will), you’ll see a giant copper pot of bubbling caramel-colored candy and rows of freshly-made pralines lined up on a slab of marble just inside the door. These Southern pecan pralines are a must-buy item to bring home to family and friends after a visit from Charleston (along with some benne wafers and a bottle of mustard-based bbq sauce!)
Ah, but what are you to do when the pralines are gone?
Make your own, I say.
About this recipe
This recipe is the real deal. These are the same pralines you’d get at Market Street Sweets or River Street Sweets in Charleston, SC or Savannah, GA, or in New Orleans.
What are my credentials? Well, I had help from not one, but TWO former managers of Market Street Sweets, close family and friends, who know the ingredients, the technique, what the mixture should look like when it’s pulled from the heat, and what it should look like when they’re done.
I’ve been texting back and forth videos of bubbling sugar, photos of runny pralines and seized ones, temperature readings, and descriptions of consistency. Despite having worked at the store at least a decade apart, they had the same feedback on when I pulled the candy too early or too late.
Plus, I have my own credentials of being a lifelong Charleston pecan praline eater. I know when the texture is just a little off and when I’ve nailed it.
Granted, the former candy store managers are used to making these pralines in commercial-sized batches in a giant copper vat or a machine that mixes and cooks simultaneously. (Spoiler alert — YOU’RE the machine that will mix these babies — but don’t worry, they only take a few minutes!) So I’ve made about a dozen batches in the last two weeks to perfect the recipe, scaling down to a small household-sized batch with equipment most regular home cooks will have.
Making Homemade Pecan Pralines
The ingredients in Southern Pecan Pralines are surprisingly simple. You don’t need any evaporated or condensed milk, no corn syrup, not even any vanilla (shocking, I know!). I wouldn’t say no to some added vanilla myself, but they don’t use any at the candy shop if you’re going for authenticity.
There’s no brown sugar in these, but if you make them right people think there is!
It’s just half-and-half, butter, sugar, baking soda, and pecan halves. That’s it!
Equipment you need
Making your own candy is something that seemed intimidating to me for a long time but after making some homemade marshmallows it seems so much more accessible. All you really need to get started is a good instant-read thermometer (or some training from someone who can teach you how to look for colors and textures — but I started with a thermometer and am learning the colors and textures as I make more candy).
I use my Thermapen MK4 for these to identify the temperature to take my pralines off the heat. It’s a bit more expensive than other instant-read thermometers but I’m glad I finally took the plunge and got mine, since it is so fast and accurate! And FAST is really important for making candy, since your mixture can rise a few degrees in a short amount of time, which can make a huge difference in your result. Thermapen is the gold standard of instant-read kitchen thermometers and I have to say, I can see why!
If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, you can just watch my video or look at my step-by-step photos and then watch your mixture closely to pull it at the right time. The staff at Market Street Sweets don’t use a thermometer (at least as of a decade ago) so you don’t have to either, if you know what to look for.
The only other things you need are a spoon (I use wooden), some parchment paper (or a marble slab, if you want to do it like the pros), a quarter-cup measuring cup or cookie scoop to scoop your pralines, and a big pot. And when I say big pot, I mean your mixture will foam up and quadruple in size as you cook it and you don’t want to be concerned about it boiling over! I used a big pasta pot (mine is 5 quarts).
What to expect when making pecan praline candy
It’s good to have an idea of what you’ll see as you heat up your mixture of half-and-half, sugar, butter, and baking soda because once it starts boiling, things move pretty fast. Here’s what to expect.
Room temperature: Butter, sugar, half-and-half, and baking soda are in your pot. As you start to heat it up over medium high heat, the butter will melt, the sugar will dissolve, and everything will combine as you stir.
200 degrees: As you hit about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, your mixture will start foaming. Then it will start foaming A LOT and boiling with big bubbles bursting through the foam.
215 degrees: You’ll get to peak size and foaminess. It will be about quadrupled in size and is kind of fun to watch!
220 degrees: After the first big rolling foamy boil, the mixture settles back down to a normal size again. It begins to take on some color at this point.
225 to 230 degrees: It’s starting to get nicely golden. If you stop stirring for a moment, you’ll see little foamy bubbling hills with darker lines between. If you stir quickly, you will see the bottom of the pot for just a split second following your spoon.
235 degrees: Traditional candy-making literature says pralines are made at 235 to 240 degrees. My candy-making friends said that is a little too soon. When I pulled the mixture at 235 on my first batch the pralines were too runny. Delicious, but not the right texture.
Then I tried again at 235 but stirred it to cool and thicken for 6 minutes before scooping the pralines. They were less runny and more clustery but still wayyyy too soft. You can see my photo in the troubleshooting section and a demonstration of breaking one in half in my video.
Notice at 235 degrees, the mixture is still a bit puffy, and you’ll see darker lines throughout the pot. It’ll be about 30 seconds to a minute longer before it’s ready.
250 degrees: as you stir, you’ll see a little more of the bottom of the pot, open bubbles, and the mixture will pull away from the side of the pot a little. The puffiness is mostly gone. The whole mixture sort of follows the spoon around as you stir. Pull the mixture off the heat at 250 degrees.
If the mixture becomes smooth, you no longer see bubbles, and it looks more like caramel, you’ve overcooked it. It won’t make great pralines, but you can still make a delicious ice cream topping out of it.
It took my mixture about five and a half minutes to get from 215 to 250 degrees, so you have a good idea of how quickly this will progress. You may have to tell the other people in the room not to talk to you for a minute or two once you approach go-time.
Once you hit go-time (250 degrees) remove the mixture from heat, stir in your pecans, and give it about a minute to cool and thicken a bit. Just one minute though or it will get too thick to scoop.
If it cools too much and starts to harden before you’ve finished scooping your pralines, add a tablespoon or two of water to help it thin back out just a little bit. Your final pralines may be a little softer but will still be beautiful and delicious!
Here’s a key difference between making these at home and making a giant batch in a candy store. Both people I talked to said there was no waiting to cool or stirring for a particular amount of time. But my theory is that because it’s such a large batch, it naturally takes longer to stir in the pecans evenly and gives the mixture a little time to cool anyway. Since you’re making a smaller batch at home, you have to add that cooling time in deliberately.
Once the pecans are evenly coated and the mixture thickens up a little, then use a quarter-cup measuring cup or large cookie scoop to drop lumps of the mixture onto parchment paper.
How to know when you’ve nailed it
- The pecans should be very much a part of the mixture, rather than looking like the mixture is poured over pecans.
- The pralines are a nice light golden caramel color.
- When you break off a piece, it snaps instead of bending and then breaking. It should not be soft. However, it is not crunchy either, except for the pecans.
Troubleshooting and FAQs
Please refer to the reference photo below for the troubleshooting questions if you want to see examples of the various “failed” or imperfect (but still delicious) pralines I made while testing.
The recipe video includes an example of a perfect praline and one that I pulled at 235 and stirred for six minutes.
You either pulled your mixture too soon OR you didn’t let it cool at all after removing it from the heat. Give it another 5-10 degrees before you pull the mixture off the heat next time, or make sure you let it cool for about a minute after stirring in the pecans so it thickens up before scooping your pralines.
In the meantime, these will still be absolutely delicious. They may taste more buttery than usual.
See the top praline in the troubleshooting photo.
Quick, add a small amount of water (a tablespoon or two) to bring the mixture back together! This will either save your pralines completely (yay!), or make really decent and glossy pralines that are just a little softer than normal (still yay!). See the third and fourth pralines in the troubleshooting photo.
If you pulled the mixture so late that it was no longer bubbling while on the heat, see the question below.
You pulled the mixture too late/too hot. If your mixture stopped bubbling and became smooth like caramel before you removed it from the heat, it was probably 275 or 285 degrees by the time you took it off. There’s not much you can do to make them into pralines at that point; however, you can add a little water while mixing in your pecans and turn your pralines into a really delicious mess that you can use as a topping or mix-in for ice cream (still yay!).
See the last praline in the troubleshooting photo.
You can store pecan pralines at room temperature in an airtight container for at least a couple weeks. The surface will become less glossy as they age, with a more dull, almost powdery or crazed appearance, and that’s fine. They will still taste great.
Not unless you have a very large pot. The sugar mixture foams up and expands to wayyy bigger than you’d expect. My 5-qt pot was not large enough for a double batch, but an 8-qt or larger pot would probably be sufficient.
You sure can! I tested these so many times I had ALL KINDS of extras. I packed them up and sent them out in the mail to family and friends in cellophane treat bags inside cute little boxes. They loved the pralines and the packaging!
Here are the boxes, bags, and labels I used — each box fit 6-8 pralines inside.
Cellophane treat bags (I took out the cardboard insert so it fit inside the boxes)
Printable labels for the box tops
“Handmade with love” stickers
Corrugated shipping boxes (just large enough to hold the bakery boxes linked above, with a tiny bit of padding by some crumbled paper)
I’m so glad you asked. Pecan pralines are what are pictured in this post: a pecan cluster coated in a semisoft, not crunchy, candy, which I would describe as sort of a hybrid of fudge and caramel. Ingredients include sugar, dairy, and butter. Pecan pralines are about the size of a cookie.
I have seen pecan pralines referred to as praline pecans as well, but praline pecans also refer to individual pecans coated with a crunchy sugar-and-spice coating. In that case, they could be made by coating pecans in beaten egg white and a spiced sugar mixture, and then baked until crisp.
More sweet treats to make
If you like making Southern pecan pralines, you’ll love these other recipes too!
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Old Fashioned Southern Pecan Pralines
- 5 qt or larger pot
- Wooden spoon
- 1/4 cup measuring cup or cookie scoop
- Parchment paper
- Small spatula
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 cup butter
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
- Before you begin, lay out your parchment paper, 1/4-cup measuring cup or cookie scoop, and small spatula, and measure out your pecans. You need to be able to move quickly once you take your candy off the heat and can't waste any time looking for tools or measuring ingredients once it starts to cool.
- Add sugar, half-and-half, butter, and baking soda to a large pot (5 qts or more). Stir ingredients to combine and heat over medium high heat.
- Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 250 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do not have an instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer, please watch the recipe video and refer to the photos above or in the recipe notes for a visual of what to look for so you know it's the right temperature.
- When the mixture reaches 250 degrees, remove from heat and stir in the pecans. Let the mixture cool for one minute so it can thicken a little before you scoop out your pralines.
- Drop pralines onto the parchment paper by 1/4-cup scoops (or using a cookie scoop), giving just a little space between. If mixture starts to cool and harden too much before you finish scooping, you can add a tablespoon or two of water to thin out the praline mixture again.
- Allow to cool at room temperature for an hour or two, or until pralines are hard. Pralines should have a glossy sheen to them and break cleanly with sort of a snap (not audible) rather than bending like a soft cookie. (They're not crunchy either, besides the natural crunch of the pecans)
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. Pralines made correctly will become less glossy with time.
1st time I’ve ever made pralines, they came out perfect! I have some experience making candy, but the pictures of what the mixture looked like at the different temperatures really helped. My husband is diabetic so I only kept a few at home and gave the rest to my sister and her family. They have never had pralines before and absolutely loved them. Thank you for such a wonderful recipe!!!
First time making Pralines and SUCCESS!! My candy thermometer was not helpful either, so your video was terrific🤩🤩 When I saw the color darken and the difference in the bubbles/texture, I knew it was READY!! After adding pecans and dropping mixture onto the parchment, I did have to act FAST so I wonder if spreading on parchment and breaking up after setting would work? My recipe, same quantities and ingredients, served 30 pralines and I only ended with about 16. But the are BEAUTIFUL and YUMMY….THANK YOU!!
Tried the recipe twice, exactly as the instructions stated. Not once did the mixture ever make it to 250 degrees. The first time I left off the thermometer and went by the picture. It didn’t set. The second time I left the thermometer in,and it only got up to 239 and it burned up and scorched my pan. No thanks. Won’t try this again.
Sounds as if you either had your heat to high, were not stirring the entire time, or have a bad thermometer.
Best explanation I’ve found on the internet! Thanks!
This is an excellent tutorial with detailed and step-by-step photos. I could almost smell the inside of River Street Sweets in Savannah from memory!
Thanks so much for sharing! Glad they could bring back a good memory for you!
i think the author forgot to put equal parts white to brown sugar in the recipe & skip the baking soda. also, evaporated milk works better in recipes like this (high heat and longer cooking times)