Crunchy toasted pecans smothered in smooth, gooey caramel and topped with a layer of creamy chocolate, these Chocolate Turtles are a classic holiday favorite and are so easy to make!
There are a few treats that I look forward to every year for Christmas. Turtle candy, sometimes called pecan clusters or bear claws, are one of them. Similar to peanut clusters, they are gooey in a caramely way.
This great recipe is a classic Christmas candy made of crunchy pecans, chewy caramel, chocolate chips and a pinch of sea salt. 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.
Homemade is Better!
This chocolate turtles recipe as actually easier than you might think. They come together quickly with just a few ingredients and when you make them at home the flavor combinations are endless.
Generally, they are made with pecans, but you can make them with hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds as well. And if you are allergic to nuts, then pretzels are a great option.
I am known for making a few quick swaps as long as it doesn’t hurt the integrity of the recipe and not making homemade caramel is one of them. Just use the caramel squares and be done with it. This time of year is busy enough!
What You’ll Need
You’ll likely be able to find the ingredients for homemade candy right in the kitchen!
- Pecan Halves– Halves are still larger pieces and easier to manage, but if they break a little, it isn’t the end of the world. You can swap these out with other types of nuts or even a blend.
- Caramelos or baking caramels– This is approximately 55 caramel squares. I do recommend making your own caramel so it hardens up enough to hold these bites together. Caramel sauce you buy at the store likely won’t be stiff enough to do this. You want chewy, but not saucy. Homemade caramels can work if they are towards the hard side.
- Heavy cream– Just a touch of cream allows the caramel to be malleable, but not liquidy. Some people use corn syrup, but I find this to be too sweet unless using bittersweet chocolate.
- Chocolate– Use whatever your heart desires or a blend of chocolate like milk, dark chocolate or semi sweet chocolate. You can even do a contrasting drizzle of white chocolate along the tops. Use the best chocolates you can find because this is such a chocolate-forward recipe.
- Vegetable shortening or coconut oil– This fat is used to temper the chocolate, just a small amount is needed. Almond butter and cow’s milk butter can also be used.
- Coarse sea salt (optional) or fleur de sel– You know I love salty and sweet! A nice flaky salt that isn’t as salty, is the best option.
How to Make Chocolate Turtles
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.
- Toast the pecans. Place the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven at 350F. Toast them for five minutes then stir and toast 5 minutes longer. Then remove them from the oven to cool.
- Chop the pecans. This is optional, you can leave them whole if you like, but I prefer the texture of the chocolate 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.
- Place the caramels and heavy cream in a medium size bowl. Make sure there is enough room to stir the caramels. Microwave caramel in the microwave or over a pot of simmering water on the stove (in a double boiler).
Stir the caramel occasionally. 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 for the perfect chocolate turtles!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 sea salt.
- Let the chocolate turtles set then package up for storage.
Storage & Freezing
Storage: Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. They can be chilled, but keep in mind that that the chocolate might become foggy or sweat when removed from the refrigerator. The shelf stable aspect makes homemade chocolate turtles the perfect gift basket item.
Freezing: Freezing turtle candy is quite easy and it’s actually the best way to store them.
Simply place them in an airtight 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.
More Christmas Treats
- Chocolate Covered Candy Canes
- Christmas Coal Candy (Black Fudge)
- Christmas Dunkaroo Dip
- Eggnog Cookies
- Christmas Wreath Cookies
Homemade Chocolate Turtles Recipe
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
- With a sharp knife, roughly chop the pecans reserving 15 halves to top the turtles. No need to be precise with the chopping, we are just looking for small pieces. Fifthteen halves will make for half the batch being pecan topped and the other half being sea salt topped.
- 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(or coconut oil) 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.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings!