Pralines & Dreams
I considered myself to be a decent cook and baker. However, candy making had been unchartered territory until I recently cracked the code of a favorite—chewy Texas Pecan Pralines. This culinary epiphany came only days before I left my home sweet home in Austin, Texas, to return to CU Boulder after an epic hiatus to wrap up my bachelor’s degree in journalism.
When I was a little girl, I remember tasting heavenly, creamy homemade pralines, bursting with pecans, handcrafted with love by my mom. She only whipped them up a few times, but I just couldn’t get the memory of those buttery, sugary treats out of my head. They were that good. I asked her if she still had the recipe, but I knew it would be hopeless since my mom wasn’t one for keeping track of her down-home style cooking.
I married my college sweetheart, a guy with the same first name as me, and began teaching myself to cook. Becoming “Kelly Times Two” was amazing, and I had a lot to learn as an aspiring home chef, plus a long way to go in college. I struggled through some of my early classes, but managed to get good grades. Yet somehow, I never finished. I was so close, I could practically taste it with merely two classes left to graduate.
My cooking talents emerged while my education was placed on the back burner and I began juggling various roles as mother, neighbor, chauffeur, homeroom mom, PTA volunteer, sales director and supportive spouse. I turned obstacles into success, and usually event planning and delicious food were involved.
At first, I avoided any recipe dealing with yeast since everything I had heard about bread baking seemed out of reach—with all the dough rising, the kneading, punching and shaping. But the time came when I just decided to go for it. I quickly learned how to whip up the most fluffy, soft and delicious tasting dinner rolls ever, practically in my sleep.
Then there was all the hype over candy making being exceedingly difficult. I had to learn to trust the thermometer to measure hard crack, soft crack and soft ball stages. This food art form seemed overwhelmingly impossible. So did going back to college to earn that elusive degree.
As I was sorting through old cookbooks, I glanced at “Joy of Cooking,” a gift from Kelly with a note he’d written saying how proud he was of me. Then from out of nowhere, a section about pralines, with an explanation comparing New Orleans PRAH-lines to French PRAY-lines appeared. So I made some, and they were fantastic! The bubbling, golden, molten concoction looked so complex, but it was a piece of cake!
Why did it take me so long? In December 2016, I applied for readmission to CU Boulder, and returned to finish what I started, and will graduate in May. Like those pralines I had dreamed of forever, stepping onto campus was as perfect and satisfying as I’d remembered.