Crunchy toasted pecans are chopped and smothered in smooth, creamy caramel then topped with a layer of chocolate. These chocolate pecan turtle clusters are always a hit and only take about an hour to make.
This recipe first appeared on Savory Experiments where I am a contributor.
What are chocolate turtles?
Turtles are a classic Christmas candy made of nuts, creamy caramel and chocolate. I mean, how does it get any better than that?
You can find them at almost any store during the holidays in a wide range of varieties.
But as much as I love the store-bought turtles, and would never turn them down, nothing beats making them yourself.
Why this recipe works
These chocolate turtle clusters come together quickly with just a few ingredients and the flavour combinations are endless.
Traditionally they are made with pecans, but you can make them with hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds as well. And if you are allergic to nuts pretzels are a great option.
I’m actually not to picky when it comes to turtle chocolate candies. I will take them no matter what they are made with.
- Soft Caramels – Kraft caramels or milk caramels, sometimes called caramelos. Be sure you are using soft caramels, not hard candy.
- Nuts – Generally pecans, but hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds work too. You can use pretzels if you need to keep these nut free.
- Chocolate chips – Milk, semi-sweet or dark. You can also use chopped baking chocolate.
- Heavy Cream – This helps the caramel melt and creates the smooth, chewy caramel layer.
- Shortening – Helps the chocolate melt and become shiny. You can use butter or coconut oil as well.
Step by Step Instructions
The hardest part is melting the caramel, and even that really isn’t hard. It just takes a bit of muscle power to stir it until it gets to that nice, creamy consistency.
One– Toast the pecans. Place the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven at 350 degrees. Toast them for five minutes then stir and toast 5 minutes longer. Then remove from the oven to cool.
Two – Chop the pecans. This is optional, you can leave them whole if you like, but I prefer the texture of the turtles when the pecans have been chopped.
No need to get precise or fancy with this. Just dump them on a cutting board and chop them up a bit. Reserve enough to top the turtles, if desired.
Place the pecans in little piles on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone liner. This is very important. Do not use tin foil. I like to use about 1 tablespoon of chopped nuts per pile.
Expert Tip – If you are in a hurry you can skip toasting the nuts. However, toasting them will give them a deeper, better flavor.
Three – Place the caramels and heavy cream in a medium size bowl. Make sure there is enough room to stir the caramels.
Four – Melt the caramels in the microwave or over a pot of simmering water on the stove. It is going to seem like it doesn’t want to melt at first, but it will eventually melt and become smooth.
As the caramels warm, stir them occasionally (or between each microwave interval). You will begin to notice the cream starts changing color as the caramels start to melt. Keep stirring. Eventually the caramels will start to come together in a big sticky ball. As you continue to heat and stir you will notice that the ball starts to separate and get stringy, this is when you know they are almost done. Keep stirring until the caramel has completely melted and is smooth and creamy.
Five – While the caramel is still warm, pour about one tablespoon over the top of the pecans. I like to pour it right on the middle of the pile and slowly swirl the spoon outward toward the edge.
Place the tray in the freezer for about 5 minutes to let the caramel set.
Six – Melt the chocolate with the vegetable shortening. You can do this over a simmering double boiler on the stove or in the microwave on 10 second bursts stirring between each interval until it is melted and smooth.
Expert Tip – Be sure not to skip lining the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet otherwise the turtles will stick to the pan. Do not use tinfoil as it will also stick to the caramel.
Seven – Pour a spoonful of chocolate over each caramel cluster. Before the chocolate sets you can press half a pecan on the top or sprinkle with salt.
Let the turtles set then package up for storage.
How to store chocolate turtles
The best way to store chocolate turtles is by freezing them. The caramel will tend to soften if they are left at room temperature for too long.
Simply place them in an air-tight container with a layer of parchment or wax paper between each layer.
When ready to eat just take out as many as you like, let them thaw for a few minutes and enjoy.
Expert Tip – If you don’t like the caramel oozing out of the turtles you can double the chocolate and dip the pecan caramel cluster in the chocolate so that it is completely enclosed in chocolate rather than just topped. I mean, more chocolate is never bad, right?
Top Tips & FAQS
Melted chocolate will seize for a couple of reasons. Usually it means it either got too hot or water got into it.
If you are melting on the stove, make sure the double boiler is set to medium low. If using a microwave, you only want to use 10-15 second intervals.
Be careful not to let even a drop of water come in contact with the chocolate.
You want to choose a soft caramel, like Kraft caramel squares or Milk Caramels, often called caramelos. These caramels will melt into a creamy, stringy caramel that turtles are famous for.
More chocolate recipes
Chocolate Turtle Pecan Clusters
- 12 oz Pecan halves about 3 cups
- 12 oz Soft caramels Kraft caramel squares or Milk caramels (about 55)
- 4 Tbsp Heavy cream
- 8 oz Chocolate chips milk, dark or semi-sweet
- 2 tsp Vegetable shortening
- 1-2 tsp Coarse sea salt optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes stirring half way through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- With a sharp knife, roughly chop the pecans reserving some halves to top the turtles. No need to be precise with the chopping, we are just looking for small pieces.
- On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner, make little piles of chopped pecans (about 1 tablespoon each).
- Place the caramels and cream in a large, microwave safe bowl or the top of a simmering double boiler. Stir the caramels with the cream until they are melted and smooth. If using a microwave, use 20 second intervals and stir between each interval.
- While the caramel is warm, pour 1 tablespoon of caramel over each pecan pile.
- Place the tray in the freezer for a few minutes to set the caramel while you melt the chocolate.
- Place the chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave safe bowl or top of a simmering double boiler and heat until melted and smooth. If using a microwave, use 10 second intervals stirring between each interval.
- Remove the turtles from the freezer and drizzle chocolate over each caramel cluster.
- Before the chocolate sets, sprinkle with sea salt or press a pecan half on the top.
- Place the turtles in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to set, then move to an airtight container for storage. Be sure to separate each layer of turtles with wax or parchment paper.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.