Year in, year out, this is our “it isn’t Christmas without them” confection. My mother used to make these for our family’s annual Open House, a huge affair with upwards of 100 people coming through the house in one December afternoon. I loved the brown sugariness of these treats, but as a child I wasn’t crazy about pecans… so I’d find the least-adulterated ones and sneak them back to my room to eat. I still like a high candy-to-nut ratio.
Robert and I have these down to a science. The first few years we botched more batches than we got right. We were at a distinct disadvantage living in Houston, not the best climate for candy-making. I remember taking a walk around the block after one particularly frustrating failure. We take our candy seriously.
The first time I make them each year I remind myself of the recipe, just in case. But we basically know it by heart.
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup buttermilk (low fat is fine; we’ve never tried fat free and why should you?)
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cup pecan halves
1. Line the counter with parchment paper, or wax paper with paper towels underneath (otherwise the pralines will melt the wax paper onto the counter, causing the pralines to break when you pry them up. Of course this causes all the calories to fall out, so do whatcha gotta do.)
2. Combine all ingredients except the pecans in a 6-qt saucepan using a wooden spoon. Cook to the softball stage (240 degrees), stirring constantly.
3. Remove from heat and stir in pecans. Keep stirring for a minute or so, then spoon candy onto parchment/wax paper in small puddles.
Honestly, the only tricky part of this recipe is knowing when to pour. Pour too soon and the first few will be sticky caramel. Pour too late and they sugar up in the pan (although they still taste delicious). You basically want to pour when the mixture is juuuuuuuust starting to lose its glossy sheen.
Makes about 3-4 dozen, depending on how big you make ‘em.