My mother-in-law loves turtles. She especially enjoys a variety she found on the Oregon Coast that have cashews as the nuts, not pecans. I decided I wanted to make some for her for a Christmas treat. Having cashews around our house (or nuts of any kind, really), they can disappear rather quickly (!), so I ended up with much more caramel than nuts, so I rummaged up some peanuts and some macadamia nuts I hadn't already used for Christmas baking, and thus, some unusual and tasty turtles were born!
These sweet treats were made on the night that Bad Dog Ruby temporarily disappeared. (I have been told that maybe she wouldn't hike off if I called her Good Dog Ruby, but I'm not so sure.) For some reason, she decided that one of her little bunkers under the junipers would make a good overnight camp, much to our distress. When she reappeared at the back door at 7 a.m. the next morning, I was much too happy to be angry. We had a hugging/warming session and all was well.
All that is to say that the caramel came off the stove just as I discovered Ruby was AWOL. So it sat for more than an hour cooling, and I thought maybe it would be a wash and I'd be starting over the next day. But when I finally decided I'd searched high and low and wasn't going to find Ruby that night, I came back in and distracted myself with putting the turtles together. The caramel actually worked quite well still after all that cooling, and was actually more manageable than I imagine it would be with the 5 minutes* recommended cooling in the recipe I was (sort of) following.
Caramel on the stove, bubbling away.
Aloha! This will be the closest I'll get to Hawaii this year...
(adapted from the Boston Herald)
Caramel requires about 60 to 70 minutes from start to finish. Remember never to touch the boiling sugar mixture. (Have you ever had a caramel burn? It's unlike any other. Really.)
3/4 pound roasted cashews (Coastal!)
3/4 pound raw macadamias (Hawaiian!)
3/4 pound roasted peanuts (otherwise...)
2 2/3 cups sweetened condensed milk
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut up
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 pounds semisweet and milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
In a medium heavy-based saucepan, combine the milk, granulated and brown sugars, and corn syrup. Set the pan over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugars. Wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in hot water. When the sugar mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat to medium-low. Stir every 3 to 5 minutes until it turns dark amber and a candy thermometer reads 236 degrees. This will take about 1 hour and time will vary with each pot. (If you do not have a candy thermometer, remove a sample of the caramel with a spoon and drop it in a glass of cold water. If it forms into a soft ball, the caramel is done.)
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Let the mixture cool without stirring for about 5 minutes.*
Spoon a dollop of caramel over a small group of nuts. Spoon another dollop of caramel over another group of nuts, so the two rounds do not touch. Repeat until every group of nuts has a hood of caramel on top. Leave to cool.
You can do the grown up thing and melt your chocolate over a simmering water bath, but if you're a shortcutter like me, the microwave works just fine. I have learned my lesson (repeatedly, sadly) and follow the general rule of 1 minute of microwave time, followed by 30 second intervals with stirring at each stop, until a soft and dippable consistency is reached.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Separate the turtles and transfer to the parchment.
Spoon melted chocolate over the turtle clumps, thoroughly, and chill.