Turtles all the way down.


Only being subjected to British confectionary for 90% of my life meant that I had no idea what Turtles were when my friend K asked me how to make them. Apparently they’re an American/Canadian sweetie made from chocolate, caramel and pecans. Ok, I said. How hard can this be?

Trickier than I expected, to be honest. Photos of actual chocolate turtles showed something like a Caramel Cup (were they from Quality Street or Roses? I forget) with little feet. I discounted that idea out of hand, though. The important things were the nuts, the caramel and the chocolate. And longevity, because enrobing the lot would be faffy and apparently showing off the caramel is part of the experience.

Recipes for these things made me laugh. “Microwave some caramels to melt” was one gem. One recipe used terrible chocolate and then added an additional boatload of fat, apparently to help it set. I don’t know what was going on there. But I got some useful tips out of them: toasting the nuts, for example, is a good one as it does develop some great flavours and the smell of warm pecans is amazing. Use silicone baking parchment (although I’ve not seen anything other than that for a while now). And, erm, that’s probably it. Look, it’s nuts and caramel and chocolate in a pile.

The caramel was fun, though. I wanted one that was runny enough to get into all the nooks and crannies of the nuts so they’d stick together firmly when it cooled, but not teeth-shatteringly hard when it set. So: dairy caramel with some glucose but not so much as I’d usually use. And I’ve been experimenting on making caramel, too – my traditional method has amazing results but takes ages, but getting it 90% as good in a quarter of the time was just fine.

I guesstimated at a 1:1:1 ratio of the three, which was more-or-less right. If you make this there will be caramel left over, but not enough to cause a problem if you pour it into a slab and chop into squares when set.

The bag of pecans I bought was 150g, so that’s the base weight. Your bag may differ, so adjust accordingly.

Ingredients: 150g pecans. 150g granulated sugar, 15g glucose, 25g water, 50g double cream, pinch of salt. 150g milk chocolate.

In a dry frying pan, toast the pecans until fragrant. Arrange in little piles on a baking sheet covered in baking parchment, like three pecan halfs or a little pile of broken bits. Put the sugar, glucose and water in a big heavy bottomed saucepan and heat up.

Now, the caramel making rules are these: you can stir once to distribute the water and sugar, but once it’s on the heat do not stir. Don’t even touch it. If you must, and there’s sugar crystallising on the sides of the pan, use a wet pastry brush to dissolve the crystals but DO NOT KNOCK THEM INTO THE MOLTEN SUGAR. Low temp until all the sugar has dissolved, then turn up the heat a little and WATCH IT LIKE A HAWK. In this case, wait until the caramel starts to go a golden amber colour, like the colour of honey – if it goes too dark the caramel will taste burned and you don’t want that. Once it’s mostly honey coloured take it off the heat and pour in the cream and the salt. IT WILL FOAM UP. Don’t be scared, just give it a gentle stir and stir until it stops bubbling by itself.

Don’t hold the pan over the piles of nuts and pour it on, as it’ll be too heavy and will knock the piles over, so while it’s still runny use a tablespoon to gently drizzle your piles of nuts with the caramel. Then leave it alone for an hour. Then melt your chocolate – however you like, but if you do it in a glass bowl over hot water take it off the water when 3/4ths of the chocolate has melted, then gently stir it with a clean, dry spoon until it’s all melted – then pour over the tops of the piles of nuts and caramels. Leave alone until set, then store in an airtight box. The caramel is hygroscopic so will suck in atmospheric moisture until it turns to goo. You don’t want that.

And there you have it. Enough to make a recently-returned-from-Canada friend very happy.

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