No matter how you pronounce it, pecans are delicious and can enrich almost any dessert, from ice cream to pie. They’re a Thanksgiving staple, one that gives pumpkin some stiff competition. You’re probably familiar with the decadence of butter pecan as a flavor and the rich, creaminess of pralines as their own individual confection. But before we get to dessert options let’s get to the another nut of the matter—the pecan itself.

Turns out the flavorful nuts aren’t actually nuts at all! Technically pecans, like other members of the hickory family, are drupes, a fruit with a single stone or pit surrounded by a husk. The “nut” develops from the inner layer known as the endocarp and contains the edible seed.

Pecan trees are native to the Southern United States and Mexico and have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Over that period of time, numerous desserts have been devised to highlight the awesomeness and versatility of the pecan. The most notable being the praline, a sweet combination of nuts, caramelized sugar, and cream.

The first incarnation of the dessert actually featured almonds and pre-dated American colonization  The confection was named after French diplomat César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin (what a mouthful!). But here’s where history get hazy. Some believe he had his chef create the candies to woo various love interests. Other stories claim his butler created the dessert to treat Praslin’s indigestion. And yet others believe the creation of the praline was a delicious accident triggered by a clumsy cook knocking almonds into a vat of caramelized sugar. But no matter how you slice it, the treat’s nebulous origins are irrelevant when you consider the delicious outcome.

When European settlers landed in America, the recipe took on new life, given the plentitude of sugar cane and pecan trees, especially in the New Orleans area. It was around this time in the 1800s that cream was also added to thicken the confection.  American-style pralines are usually made by combining sugar (usually brown) with butter, cream, or buttermilk and pecans in a pot over medium-high heat. Consistent stirring until the liquid has evaporated ensure that the candies have a thick texture. Spoonfuls of the mixture are then dropped on wax paper and the hardened result usually has a fudge-like consistency and is less brittle than the French variety.  For additional variation, try Belgian pralines which are covered in chocolate for extra flair.

The praline has endured as a staple of Southern cuisine and remains one of the most popular nutty desserts. To this day, New Orleans street vendors hawk the confection to eager tourists and locals alike. On a national, level Pralines ‘n’ Cream ice cream has been a staple of the Baskin Robbins counters since 1970. And beyond the praline as individual treat, the combination of butter and pecans is one of the most recognizable ingredient pairings, dressing up the dullest of cookies or tarts. Below are some of our favorite recipes which make use of the combo.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Chowhound

The only thing better than regular pecan pie is chocolate pecan pie. This is a dessert provides an extra layer of decadence on an already rich dessert. It’s bound to be a hit at Thanksgiving. Get the recipe.

Pecan Pie Tarts

Chowhound

A tart-y twist on a classic pie. This one also features extra caramel and butter for a chewy texture that complements the crunch of the pecan. Get the recipe.

Pecan Pralines

Creole Contessa

Pecans, sugar, and butter are all you need for the perfect dessert. Here’s a recipe for the classic New Orleans praline, perfect for beginners looking to make this Southern staple. Get the recipe.

Praline Pull-Apart Bread

Myra O./ Key Ingredient

Here’s a towering dessert that’s actually not that intimidating to make. It’s a doughy delight with autumnal spice and nutty crunch Get the recipe.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock and A Homemade Living

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