Many of us really like the candy known as Turtles, if we buy it from a quality shop, for it combines three of our favorite foods ... pecans, caramel and chocolate. How can anyone not like that combination? Okay, if you are a termite or herbivore I will understand. Otherwise ... You want to make turtles per this recipe.
This recipe is a modification of one I finally found on the Internet that happened to be superior to the rest of the poor recipes therein. Even this one had significant flaws in candy making fundamentals that I had to correct, but at least the recommended ingredients, or most of them, were proper.
So it is that I decided to make Turtles for the first time. I expected to make further modifications. Maybe ... Because I already know about and already possess all of the best ingredients! But one never knows for sure all that might be known about superior procedures, right?
Okay (a day later) ... I made them. WOW!!! The only issue was my mistake in assuming that plain waxed paper would be sufficient as an underlayment for the turtles. Not true! They stuck fiercely to waxed paper due to the melted caramel applied earlier. It was an easy fix. I simply froze the turtles and they popped right off the waxed paper. Thereafter they don't stick to waxed paper, provided you store them upside down in layers separated by waxed paper. A better solution is to dip the pecan and caramel clusters into melted chocolate so they are coated entirely with chocolate. An alternative is to make the final caramel temperature higher than 240 degrees F to produce a less soft caramel. It is a tradeoff. I recommend that you experiment and decide what you prefer.
Ingredients: (makes 28, 2 1/2" diameter large turtles)
8 ounces (about two cups) of pecan halves (lightly roasted and lightly dusted with powdered sea salt)
One recipe of homemade caramel per the recipe shown at the bottom of the Turtles recipe, in viscous form/right off the stove in the hot saucepan. Let me tell you, this is a no-brainer. This caramel is superb and puts anything you might find in a supermarket to shame.
16 ounces (or 24 ounces if you want to coat the turtles completely with chocolate) of finely chopped high quality chocolate, barely melted (8 or more ounces of dark chocolate and 8 or more ounces of milk chocolate, or the ratio of your choice. I use all milk chocolate.) Do not use junk like chocolate chips of the type used for making cookies. Buy Lindt® or Ghirardelli® or do what I do, which is to purchase very high couverture grade Belgian chocolate, a brand named Callebaut®, via Amazon®.
1/2 tsp. of powdered sea salt for lightly dusting the lightly roasted pecans (You can make it from plain sea salt using a small high speed blender/mixer like a Magic Bullet®, or by crushing the salt with a mortar and pestle)
Roast the pecan halves on a baking sheet in a 300 degrees F oven for ten minutes, stirring and turning the baking sheet around after the first five minutes. Dump the pecan halves onto a wood cutting board and very lightly dust them with powdered sea salt and mix them to distribute the salt evenly. Let the pecans cool to room temperature.
Line two baking sheets with waxed paper. It is very helpful later if the baking sheets will fit into the freezer. Otherwise you best use parchment paper. It has to do with getting the finished turtles to release from the surface on which they are made if the soft caramel touches/adheres to the surface.
Make small piles of pecan halves on the waxed paper sheets, each pile separated by an inch on all sides from other piles, using 5 to 6 pecan halves per pile. You might overlap some of the pecan pieces in each pile to reduce the size of air gaps so the melted caramel mostly stays on the pecans instead of mostly seeping through air gaps.
Make the homemade caramel per the recipe at the bottom of this recipe and use it directly in melted but slightly cooled form from the saucepan to cover most of the pecan surface in each pile, about one to two tablespoons of melted caramel per pile of pecans.
I use two soup spoons to make this process easy ... one to scoop out a wad of soft melted caramel from the hot saucepan and the other spoon to help release the caramel from the first spoon onto the surface of the pecans. Try not to get too close to the pecans while doing that or the motion from releasing the caramel onto the pile will disturb the integrity of the pecan pile ... in other words hold the spoons about four inches above the pecan pile and let the caramel run onto the pecan surface slowly while you move the spoons gently to cover the pecan pile surface, especially in the middle of the pile. Don't put caramel around the outer edges of the pecan pile.
Thus, you add about 1 or 2 tablespoons of melted caramel (after it has cooled enough to become slightly viscous) to the top of each pecan pile, such that it will attach the pecan halves to each other. Try to do it too early and the melted caramel will run all over the place. Do it too late and it will be too stiff to process. In other words test the viscosity as the caramel cools and use it as soon as it transitions from runny to barely viscous, about three minutes. One way to keep the caramel from becoming too stiff is to keep the saucepan warm while you are using the caramel. Putting the saucepan on a wood cutting board instead of a granite counter will help keep the caramel warm. In the worst case you might have to gently reheat the remaining caramel to make it soft enough to process.
In a one quart microwave-safe plastic bowl, add the 16 ounces (or more) of small pieces of chocolate (8 ounces each of dark and milk chocolate or the ratio of your choice. I prefer all milk chocolate.) and heat it to barely melt it, about 45 seconds in the first heating cycle. Then mix/stir the chocolate.
Heat the chocolate next for 15 seconds, and thereafter in 5 second increments, stirring after each heating period until the chocolate can finally be stirred smooth. That means some unmelted pieces should be present until the very end of the stirring to avoid having the chocolate lose temper by becoming too hot. Use a quick read or instant read thermometer to check the temperature of the chocolate after each stirring. The point is you can retain the temper of the chocolate if it never gets above 34 degrees C, or 95 degrees F. The point is to take it one step at a time. Be patient. Let the chocolate melt gradually with stirring and a number of 5 second intervals in the microwave oven. Once it has all melted and the temperature never got beyond 95 degrees F you are good to go.
Add about 2 tablespoons of melted chocolate on top of each caramel topped pecan cluster by dolloping it evenly over the top and letting it flow evenly down the sides. It is normal for some of the pecan surfaces to stick out beyond the layer of chocolate ... that's why this candy looks like a turtle, hence the name.
Note: The container I use to melt the chocolate is actually a plastic pitcher, so I literally pour the melted chocolate onto the turtles and don't have to use any spoon until I want to get the last of the chocolate out of the pitcher. But if you want to coat the turtles entirely with chocolate then use a shallow wide bowl for melting the chocolate and dip and flip the turtles in the melted chocolate using two large meat forks, then transferring each turtle to the waxed paper.
Allow the Turtles to become firm in the freezer for 15 minutes or more before storing or serving them. And remember that the caramel on the bottom of the turtles will stick to waxed paper unless they are frozen, which allows you to separate them from the waxed paper easily. Once that is done they will not later stick to waxed paper even when they are at room temperature, provided you have stored them upside down.
Turtles will keep for months in the refrigerator or freezer in an air tight container or up to three weeks in an air tight container stored in a dark, cool (65 degrees F) location.
No matter which type of storage you choose, use an air tight container and form layers of the turtles, separated by pieces of waxed paper.
Enjoy! Oh, my! ... You certainly will enjoy this fine candy!
Homemade Caramel Recipe:
1/4 pound of butter (one stick)
1/4 cup of light brown sugar
3/4 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of light corn syrup
½ cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Put the butter, sugars and corn syrup into a heavy saucepan.
Heat on low, stirring until the sugar crystals are dissolved.
Use a candy thermometer and continue to heat the mixture on low until it reaches a temperature of 240ºF. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream.
Return the saucepan to the heat. Stir gently until the mixture again reaches 240º F, or higher to about 245º F if you want a firmer caramel. This may take ten to fifteen minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Use the caramel in melted form directly from the saucepan for the Turtles as soon as it has cooled barely enough to not be runny. Work quickly to avoid having the caramel become too thick to process.