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Because of my need to give homemade food gifts for the holidays, this is traditionally the weekend I atone for my lack of baking throughout the year — all at once. But instead of saying two dozen Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers, my personal penance was making THREE batches of pralines, a few POUNDS of spiced nuts, and TWO types of cookies. Oh, my friends, I’m on a sugar high that would do Beavis proud. (What? You’ve never heard of quality assurance?)

For the pralines, I dug out my dad’s recipe which adulterates the traditional praline with marshmallows, but you’ve never tasted anything like them; they’re really creamy instead of gritty the way straight-sugar pralines can sometimes be. Gil would chime in to agree, only he’s shoving broken praline bits into his mouth and banging his head on the wall in the kitchen. Don’t worry — he’s wearing a bucket for protection. The sugar crash is going to be ugly.

But the real surprise of the weekend were the cookies, primarily surprising for the fact that I baked them and did not burn even one. I normally bring in savory treats for my co-workers (last year — bacon brittle and gougères), but I suspect people appreciate the sweet stuff a little bit more, so I was willing to go that extra mile for them. And we weren’t disappointed; I really hope they won’t be, either.

Here’s the really soft and sticky sugar cookie dough, cut and ready to be moved (CAREFULLY) to the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

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As it turns out, I didn’t really need to be SO careful because these cookies s-p-r-e-a-d in the oven.

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But dressed up with chocolate and nut toupées, they turned very suave, indeed.

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So I’m really looking forward to a well-deserved break from baking this week. Maybe I’ll be chained to my desk at work, but at least I won’t be in the kitchen, forced to bake and sample delicious sweets!

Are those tiny violins I hear in the distance?

Incidentally, how sad is it that this is the only brandy we have in the house? I had to break into our kitschy Eiffel Tower stash to flavor the cookies.
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recipe after the jump

Creamy Pralines courtesy of my dad, John Beadle

After making several batches of these in one weekend, I have a few tips to ensure success. First, spray the waxed paper down like your life depends on it; these are sticky suckers that need the lubrication. Second, don’t bother with the candy thermometer until about 5 minutes after you’ve added the pecans; it really just gets in the way and the mixture won’t come up to temperature before that. Third, after you’ve added the vanilla extract, beat the praline batter vigorously until it really begins to thicken and your arm is getting tired. If you spoon them out too soon, they won’t set up and you’ll have to throw the whole mess away.

2 cups white sugar
1 stick butter
16 large marshmallows
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 cups pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
gray salt

Cook sugar, butter, marshmallows, and milk over medium heat, stirring constantly until all ingredients are melted, then add pecans. Cook, stirring constantly, to soft ball stage, 235-240 degrees. (I always go to 240 degrees. The end result is much better at the higher end of the range.) Remove from burner. Add vanilla and beat until mixture thickens. Drop by tablespoon or two onto greased waxed paper. While still hot, sprinkle with gray salt.

Yield: 48 small pralines or 15 large.

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