Homemade turtles are perfect for gift giving and holiday cookie plates! Pecans, pretzels, and Ritz Crackers topped with homemade caramel, chocolate, and candy.
It’s day 12, ya’ll!!!
Welcome to the final day of The 12 Days of Cookies here on Something Swanky. This has just been so much fun for me, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I hope you found a favorite cookie recipe or two (or twelve!) that you loved and will be making with your families this Christmas season. If you do, be sure to share it with me on Instagram!
Today’s recipe for Homemade Turtles, while not technically a cookie, is still a classic addition to the traditional holiday cookie plate, so I decided to include it.
Even though I made a couple of very non-traditional variations… I love sweet and salty so much (see this Ritz Toffee Bark and these Glazed Pretzels), I thought it would be fun to also make some Ritz Cracker and Pretzel “turtles.” I think the Ritz with M&Ms was my favorite ☺️.
So let’s talk about the homemade caramel that goes into this recipe. I know it’s kind of the elephant in the room, because NOBODY likes to make homemade caramel. And if you say you do, I won’t believe you.
Even though I’ll smile tell you that I do. Just know that in my head, I’ll be judging you. ????
So trust me, I understand that making homemade caramel can be intimidating. That’s why I tested and tested and tested this recipe to find the very best way to make the caramel. In the end, I came up with TWO different recipes that I’m going to share with you, and you can pick which one you like best! Here’s why:
The first recipe that I tried is a straight-laced, by the book caramel recipe that uses a candy thermometer and everything. It.is.delicious. Rich and a little salty and, very, very good. Buuuuuuut I felt like it was a little tricky to make, especially for a novice candy maker. If you’re anything like me, you see candy thermometer and run the other direction.
And, in fact, I did have a struggle with it. My first batch was tooth-cracking hard (that didn’t stop me from sucking on a few pieces though)! And I couldn’t have gone more an a degree (MAYBE) above the temperature called-for in the recipe.
In the next batch, I pulled it from the heat at 245ºF, just before the hard ball stage, and that batch was perfect (and the one you see here in the photos). But it got me thinking that I really didn’t want to post a recipe that could go SO wrong SO easily. Especially during the holidays!
So I started search for an easier alternative, and found this easy 6 Minute Microwave Caramel recipe.
*cue angels singing and heavens parting*
My daughter and I whipped up a batch of these in between breakfast and rushing out the door for school. If you can put a bowl in the microwave, pull it back out again, and have 6-1/2 minutes on your hands, then you can make this caramel!
It’s effortlessly soft and chewy and caramel-y, and you will want to keep this recipe forevah. Especially since it doesn’t involve a candy thermometer. Or your stove, for that matter!
I’m including recipes for both caramels below (the 6 Minute Caramel recipe will be in the NOTES section of the recipe box), and it’s up to you which one you choose! If you know what you’re doing when it comes to candy making, I’d suggest using the first recipe, because it really does have an incredible depth of flavor that you’ll swoon over.
But if you’re more of the baker-type (or the never-in-the-kitchen-type), go with the second recipe– you really can’t mess it up!
Here are a few tips before you begin (regardless of which recipe you use):
- Use a BIG pot or bowl, so that you have plenty of room for bubbling. You’ll want about 10-cups worth of space.
- I strenuously recommend using a silicone baking mat for assembling the turtles. Particularly if you are using the second recipe, the caramel is a little softer and may stick to foil or a cookie sheet. You could probably get away with using parchment or wax paper, but a silicone mat is really the best thing.
- Use a heavy hand with the salt. It makes both recipes SO yummy.
- 5 cups pecan halves (about 200 halves)
- 1-3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 12 ounces melting chocolate (like Ghirardelli or Wilton's)
For the Caramel:
Combine the cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Stir constantly until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved.
Bring mixture to a boil without stirring and cook until it reaches 235ºF (soft ball stage). At this point, start stirring once every minute until the temperature reaches 245ºF (almost hard ball stage).
Remove from heat immediately, and add the vanilla. Let cool for 15 minutes before assembling turtles.
Arrange pecans on a large silicone mat.
Prepare the chocolate by melting it according to the directions on the package.
Spoon 2 tbsp. of caramel on each grouping of pecans. Spoon chocolate over the caramel.
Sprinkle with candy or sprinkles if desired. Let cool completely (1 hour at room temp, less in the fridge).
6 Minute Caramel
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- Mix together all of the ingredients in a large microwave safe bowl.
- Microwave the mixture for 6-1/2 minutes, stirring every 90 seconds (so that's 4 x 90-second intervals with 30 seconds tacked on to the end).
- Allow caramel to cool for about 5 minutes before spooning 2 tsp on to pecan groupings and continuing with the recipe above like normal.