My go-to Christmas candy is almond toffee, but lately I've been making Homemade Turtles, pecan caramel candies that resemble turtles. In the USA, they're famous and come in orange and white packaging under the brand name DeMet's. In the Southern pecan producing states, they are popular with home candy makers who are a little more creative with the shapes. Turtles range from blobs of chocolate covered pecan caramels to candies like the ones below that look more like their namesake.
There are lots of quick and easy recipes for Turtles, but this is the only one I use because I love the flavor of the caramel so much. It's a small batch caramel recipe that can be made in minutes, and the flavor it fantastic. The drawback is that the recipe calls for only a quarter of a can (99 grams) of condensed milk. Some people, including myself, don't love having leftover condensed milk in the refrigerator. But if you have a plan for what to do with the rest of the can, it's not so bad. The other ingredients are pantry staples -- butter, brown sugar, Karo, vanilla and salt. The chocolate topping can be anything from Hershey Bars leftover from Halloween or fancy mail order chocolate.
The Right Saucepan For Caramel
The other thing you need is a proper saucepan. For small batch candy recipes like this one, I use a Simply Calphalon 1 ½ quart nonstick anodized aluminum saucepan. It conducts heat perfectly for candies and has a spout on each side which makes it useful for a lot of things. You can see what it looks like in this visual. I took the pictures to show just how many little brown spots appear in the caramel, and that's perfectly okay in this recipe. Also, this is how I position the candy thermometer. I try to keep it near the center with the bulb elevated above the bottom of the pan. For some recipes, I use it as a stirring device along with the wooden spoon.
Easier With a Scale
The caramel is so easy to make if you have a scale, especially since you're using condensed milk, which is messy to measure by volume. When using a scale, you just set the saucepan on the scale and add the gram amounts of softened butter, brown sugar, condensed milk and corn syrup, without dirtying any measuring cups. Once all the ingredients are added, stir until uniform, then put the saucepan on the stove and start cooking to soft-ball stage.
How To Make Homemade Turtles
Here's another quick rundown of the process. If you are not nut fan or want to use nuts that have already been roasted, you can skip the first step.
- Toast about 1 ½ cups of pecan halves and chop ½ cup of them. The chopped pecans will go in the caramel and the remaining pecan halves will be used as turtle heads and legs. You can also leave the chopped pecans out of the caramel entirely and just use the pecan halves to make head, arms and legs.
- Make a small batch of easy caramel and let it cool slightly.
- Spoon or pour circles of caramel onto a parchment lined tray.
- For each turtle, poke 5 pecan pieces into the caramel circles to resemble the head and legs. The caramels will still be soft at this point.
- Melt some chocolate. To melt chocolate, put a bit of chopped milk or dark chocolate in the microwave and heat on 50% power for milk or high for dark. Stir every 30 seconds until about 60 percent of the chocolate is melted, then keep stirring vigorously to melt the rest.
- Spoon melted chocolate over the turtles, then chill to quick set the chocolate and firm-up the caramel.
- Store turtles in a freezer bag in the freezer or the refrigerator.
Homemade Turtle Ingredient Rundown
- Pecan Halves or Pieces -- If your pecan halves or large, you can either make large turtles with big limbs or break the halves up and use pecan pieces. These turtles don't have to be super realistic. You can also use almonds or any other nut. You can even skip the nuts completely and use pretzels.
- Butter -- Unsalted. Soften it so that you can blend it with the other ingredients before putting everything on the stove.
- Brown Sugar -- I use light brown.
- Condensed Milk -- Eagle Brand. You'll have some leftover to make Five Minute Magic Cookies, Hello Dollies or another batch of Turtles!
- Corn Syrup -- I Karo light corn syrup which does not contain high fructose corn syrup.
- Vanilla -- Any good quality vanilla should work.
- Chocolate -- You can create different flavors of turtles using different types of chocolate.
Easy Recipes Using Partial Can of Condensed Milk
Here are a few ways to use up the condensed milk, with #1 being my favorite. Rocky Road Candy! The recipe calls for a full can, but you can make a half batch to go with your little Turtles.
- Make a half batch of Easy Condensed Milk Rocky Road.
- Take the "Friendship" out of Coconut Caramel Friendship Pie and just make one.
- Try an 8-inch square (half) Tres Leches Cake.
- Use an 8-inch square pan and make half batch of Chocolate Raspberry Crumb Bars.
- The old recipe for Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies is pretty good.
- I used some of my leftover condensed milk to make Coco-Loco Brownies.
Homemade Chocolate Turtles
- 1 ½ cups pecan halves
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened (56 grams)
- ½ cup light brown sugar (100 grams)
- ⅓ cup condensed milk (this is about ¼ of a 14 oz can) 3.5 oz/99 grams)
- 3 tablespoons light corn syrup (60 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla
- 5 ounces chocolate for coating (or more)
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lay the pecans flat on a sheet pan and bake for 8 minutes or just until the pecans are fragrant and start to release their oils. Remove from the oven and let cool. Chop ½ cup of the pecans and set aside the rest of the halves which you'll use to make heads, feet and arms.
- Line a 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. You'll be dropping caramel circles onto these sheets, so even though there are only 6 turtles per sheet, you need room for the caramel to spread. Have ready a small but deep mixing bowl or a 2 cup glass measure. You will be pouring the caramel into this.
- In a heavy 1 ½ to 2 quart lidded saucepan, off heat, mix together the very soft butter, brown sugar, condensed milk, corn syrup and salt. Stir until evenly blended.
- Set the saucepan over medium low heat and bring to a simmer, uncovered, stirring often. When mixture is at a good simmer, put the lid on the saucepan for 1 minute to steam clean the sides of the pan. Remove lid and insert a deep fry thermometer, balancing so that the bulb is in the center but not touching the bottom. Allow mixture to boil gently, without stirring, until it reaches soft ball stage. It's normal to see little brown bits forming.
- Right as it hits soft ball stage (no higher), remove from heat and pour into a clean mixing bowl. Do not scrape the sides of the saucepan, just pour the candy in. There shouldn't be a lot of candy sticking to the bottom of the saucepan, but if there is you can scrape the bottom only.
- Add vanilla and chopped nuts (or leave the chopped nuts out if you prefer) to the caramel in the bowl (or glass measuring cup). Stir until caramel is thick enough so that it doesn't run all over the place when you pour or spoon the circles. I usually spoon a few too soon and have a couple of really flat Turtles.
- When you feel the caramel is thick enough, spoon or pour little rounds of caramel onto the baking sheet, spacing as evenly as possible. You should aim for 12 to 15 little rounds of caramel.
- Using the remaining pecan halves, poke a head and 4 legs into each caramel to resemble a turtle.
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave using 50% power and stirring every 30 seconds. Alternatively, you can use a double boiler. Spoon melted chocolate over the turtles, covering the caramel completely.
- Put the tray with the turtles in the refrigerator or freezer until chocolate is set and caramel is firm.
- Store in a freezer bag in the freezer.