Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Edition Part Two: Just the Turtles

Before I dive in, here's an explanatory photo which explains the lighting issues with my food shots:
As you can see, our kitchen area has super bright, super directional spotlights. This makes it very difficult to take good food pictures! And it makes the rest of the apartment feel darker because, you know, the light is so concentrated to specific areas. We have floor lamps which do provide some relief.

Moving on!

Turtles, as we all know, are candies made from pecans, chewy caramel, and chocolate. The pecans are usually arranged in an overlapping asterisk sort of pattern, the caramel is spooned overtop, then chocolate coats the whole shebang. The resulting shape resembles a turtle (smooth back, small pecan/caramel "feet" around the edges). We chose to make smaller turtles because they're such dense treats. Honestly, I think turtles made with 4-5 pecans (as is standard) are sort of a meal on their own. I also like the idea of making a lot of small turtles rather than a few large ones. Easier for sharing, yes?

We worked off Emeril Lagasse's recipe from the Food Network, reprinted below:

4 tablespoons butter
3/4 pound (3.5 cups) halved pecans, toasted
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped. (A bar, rather than chips, is best.)

I like to prepare the work station before I get going with the business of cooking sugar. Our first step was toasting pecans and then arranging them on our chosen surfaces. You can use cookie sheets covered in parchment.. that would probably be best. I chose to experiment with muffin tins this go-round, but in retrospect this didn't have much of an effect either way.
Two-pecan stacks on parchment, two-pecan stacks in muffin tin, single pecans in mini-muffin tin 
I sprayed the cups with cooking spray to be safe
See the stacking? It's... precarious.
Then we got to work on the caramel. We mixed the sugar, corn syrup, and half the evaporated milk in a saucepan with a candy thermometer attached. Medium-low heat. When it was all mixed and dissolved, we added the rest of the evaporated milk, as well as the butter. This is how Emeril says to do it, but, really, I believe you can just dump all of these items in the pan at once and melt them together.
Remember those spotlights we talked about?
Then you cook the caramel until it reaches 240°. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. It literally took us 40 minutes to go from 230° to 240°. Bo-ring!
Approx 230° 
As laborious as it was to stand over a boiling cauldron of hot milk, sugar, and butter, I found it pretty interesting that the caramel did so much cooking while holding at 230°. I could see changes in color and viscosity, and the smell went from lovely milky sweet to dark and nutty. I would have thought that such physical changes would correlate with the temperature rise, but not so much! 

When it reached 240°, we turned off the heat, moved it off the burner, and let it cool down to 200°. This is necessary because the next step is spooning it over the pecans and if it's too hot (/runny), it will spread out too much over the nuts. We want it to settle in a nice little caramel pile on top of the nuts.
Gently, gently so as not to disturb the stacks.
While that cools, it's time to prepare the chocolate. This was my third lifetime attempt at tempering chocolate. Tempering is the process of carefully heating and cooling chocolate in a particular way such that the cocoa butter can crystallize, making the hardened chocolate shiny, melt-resistant, and snap-crisp. You know how really nice chocolates have a hard snap when you bite into them? That's chocolate that has been properly tempered. Emeril's instructions for tempering the chocolate was stressful for me, so I followed Ina Garten's instructions instead:

She basically says to chop the chocolate into small pieces, then put 3/4 of it into a glass bowl. Melt the chocolate in the microwave---20 seconds at a time, stirring between each round. When it's all melted, you add in the remaining 1/4 chopped chocolate, and stir until it's uniform and melted. The chocolate should be very shiny and just barely warm to the touch.
This is Trader Joe's 72% chocolate. Better to use bars than chips for this because chips have additives that allow them to keep their shape when you add them to cookies. 
Rubble and dirt
See how it holds its shape? 
Then spoon the chocolate, carefully, over the caramels. You don't need a thick layer. Just enough to cover.
Then you let them sit until they're hardened.

Alas.... we made these on one of those weird 80 degree days last week! There's no AC in the apartment! We hadn't yet purchased a box fan! It was quite warm. The chocolate refused to harden. It stayed as you see above, molten and beautiful, for hours. We would put the trays in our refrigerator, one at a time because our fridge is undersized, and they would simply melt again as soon as we took them out. 

We kept them in the fridge overnight (trays stacked). The next morning we packed them up and shipped them out. We had a few extras, though, and that is how I know that the turtles formed that grayish "bloom" which we all associate with old, past-its-prime chocolate. Fear not: they're still perfectly edible and delicious! The bloom is simply the cocoa butter separating itself... the chocolate industry calls this chocolate that has "fallen out of temper." Meaning it's no longer a crisp, uniform substance. I think this happened because of our heat issues... the hardening-melting-hardening wrecked our efforts at getting the chocolate to crystallize properly. 

Here's a shot of a finished, hardened (finally) turtle:
See the small, grainy dots on the chocolate? I think this is the beginning of the bloom. I'm sure that, for our much-esteemed maternal recipients, the chocolates looked much worse by the time the packages arrived. So sorry! Please, eat them anyway!

I'll master you yet, tempered chocolate. If it's the last thing I ever do!


  1. Please forward any defective turtles to her father. It is his responsibility to ensure that all safety regulations are met regarding
    proper disposal of defects.
    signed...the Dad

  2. They are alllll gone. Seems like only yesterday they arrived, along with the Divinity. sigh.
    (And again THANKS!) I can say they actually taste as luscious as they look in these photos.