At Home with The Culinary Institute of America: Turtles

[Photograph: Ben Fink]

20100211chocolatesandconfections.jpgChocolate Turtles are some of the sweetest Valentine's Day candy out there. I mean, who can resist little blobs of caramel, chocolate, and nut that resemble adorable reptiles?

With a few basic candy making techniques from Chocolates and Confections turtles are an easy home candy project. The process starts by tempering chocolate. Tempering is basically just melting chocolate to ensure that it stays shiny and snappy, and resists melting when used as a coating. The easiest way to temper chocolate is by microwaving it until it just melts or warming it in a double boiler. Here's a helpful video on the subject.

The next step is to make the caramel center that will act as the body for your little turtles. This is an instance when a candy thermometer comes in handy. The best way to test the doneness of your caramel is to dip the back of a spoon into the pan, coat it with the caramel, and immediately plunge it into an ice bath to cool. Once the caramel is cooled, you can test the texture by touch. In this instance you want it to be firm but not too hard, or a semi-firm caramel.

Once the chocolate is tempered and the caramel is made, the fun part starts. Using either pecans or cashews, lay out your nuts on parchment paper to resemble the head, tail, arms and legs of your turtles. Each little cluster of nuts gets a spoonful of caramel and then a final coating of chocolate.

Homemade gifts always win out over the store-bought version, so why not try your hand at a little candy making for your sweetie this Valentine's Day.


Adapted from Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling.

At Home with The Culinary Institute of America: Turtles

About This Recipe


  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) water
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 7 oz (1/2 can; 2⁄3 cup) sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 oz (1/2 cup) light corn syrup
  • 3 oz (6 tbsp) butter, unsalted, soft
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 lb (5 cups) toasted pecan halves or 1 lb/4 cups cashews
  • 1 lb (1 1/2 cups) dark chocolate, melted, tempered (either by melting in a microwave or in a double boiler)


  1. 1

    Combine the water, sugar, vanilla bean seeds and pod, condensed milk, corn syrup, and butter in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

  2. 2

    Continue stirring while cooking until the batch reaches 245°F. This is a good estimation of the required temperature. When the thermometer reads 240°F, begin testing the caramel's consistency using the back of a spoon and a dipping it into a bowl of ice water to cool. The cooled piece on the spoon should be firm but not hard when the caramel is properly cooked.

  3. 3

    Stir in the salt.

  4. 4

    Remove from the heat. Shock the saucepan in cold water, remove the vanilla pod using tongs, and set aside to allow the caramel to cool slightly.

  5. 5

    Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the toasted pecans on the pan in groups of 5 to resemble a turtle--its legs and head. You should be able to make 60 turtles.

  6. 6

    When the caramel has cooled to a thick but fluid consistency (140° to 150°F), spoon a tablespoon of the caramel onto each group of pecans to form the body of the turtle. Allow the turtles to cool completely

  7. 7

    Spoon or pipe the tempered chocolate on top of the cooled caramel, leaving the pecans exposed.

  8. 8

    Store in a single layer in an airtight container.

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