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Cook the Books: Bourbon-Pecan Pralines

This round Rachel of The Crispy Cook selected our August-September selection. Her announcement post is here. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson* is our current Cook the Books project. Submissions are due at the end of the you have a couple of weeks, if you want to join the fun.

On the Page...
I have to admit: I didn't really know who Marcus Samuelsson was before I read this book. I might have seen him on the Food Network - when we've stayed in a hotel since we don't have any TV stations! - but I had no idea what his story was. If you are unfamiliar, too, he's Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised, European chef-trained, and American by choice. He's also unrelenting in his ambition and, according to some friends who have also read the book, a louse. [Spoiler Alert: he fathers a child when he was just barely out of adolescence himself and is completely absent from her life for the first fourteen years of it.] He's definitely not a saint, but he also admits that he is not one. Still, I can see how some see him as unlikable.

As for me, I tried to reserve judgement on his personal life because his culinary life was fascinating to me. Readers follow him from kitchens in Sweden to Switzerland and all the way to New York where he currently lives and owns a handful of restaurants. How he develops his recipes is interesting. I think it's that what-if that opens you up to some serious culinary innovations.

"I wrote in my food journal almost every night. I tracked what I was learning, but I also started to ask questions, to play with the what-ifs of dishes that were taking shape in my mind. What if you matched turbot with a miso-based stock. What if you put seared salmon into crisp spring roll wrappers?"

On the Plate...
Of all the dishes described in the book - and there are a lot that I plan to cook eventually - I found inspiration for this post in his White House state dinner menu, specifically his dessert course. Samuelsson served petit fours, coffee, cashew brittle, pecan pralines, passionfruit and vanille gelee, and chocolate-dipped fruit. 

I've never made pecan pralines. So, I decided to brave it...and add some bourbon to the creation.

Pralines are a Louisiana candy that dates back to the mid-eighteenth century. Originally pralines were made with almonds, the preferred nut of the French, and were considered digestion-aid at the end of the meal. Today it's considered one of the signature sweets in the South. I added bourbon, the caviar from a vanilla bean, and swapped maple syrup for the corn syrup.


  • 2 C  pecan halves and pieces
  • 3 C organic granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C  bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 1 C organic heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 C butter
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • caviar from 1 vanilla bean (reserve the bean for another purpose)
  • Also needed: candy thermometer*, parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast pecans until fragrant, then cool completely.

Bring sugar, bourbon, whipping cream, butter, and maple syrup to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly. Cook until a candy thermometer registers 238°F (soft ball stage). Remove mixture from heat and let it cook till the thermometer reaches 150°F. Stir in vanilla and toasted pecans using a spatula. Stir constantly 1 to 2 minutes or just until mixture begins to lose its gloss. 

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper. Let stand until firm, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Eat within a day or two and keep in an airtight container.

Up Next...
Deb of Kahakai Kitchen will be hosting the October-November Cook the Books. We'll be reading The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais*. And Deb and I will be pairing up for a special joint Cook the Books-Food'N'Flix event as I have picked the movie for November's Food'N'Flix. Can't wait to re-read and re-watch The Hundred Foot Journey.

*I've included affiliate links below for this month's selection and next...if you would like to read well as a product I used in this recipe. If you choose to purchase this way, I do receive a small portion of the sale. If you are uncomfortable using the links, feel free to go to amazon and search on your own!



  1. Your pralines look lovely. I, too, was fascinated by the White House dinner and amazed at how Samuellson's mind worked. I guess what I admired in him as a chef made me dislike him as a person. I think that your life must be well rounded and that focusing too narrowly on only one thing, to the point that no one or nothing else matters is not good for you or for those who love and depend on you.

  2. Thank you for this toothsome addition to our Yes, Chef round of Cook the Books!

  3. I had no idea that pralines were originally made with almonds in the French tradition. I have only had pecan pralines. Good idea to make for the book.

  4. Nice! I'd like a few of those. Have never made pralines myself, but might like to try them with our local macadamia nuts.

  5. Interesting choice of recipe. I confess I have a weakness for pecans :)


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