Today we celebrate National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day. Did you know about this holiday? I find it a bit odd – chocolate-covered ANYTHING? – really??It is worthy of celebrating, nonetheless.
Just in time for the bigger “holiday season”, the recipe I have chosen to honour this day is home-made “turtles” or chocolate-covered salted caramels with pecans (caramels au fleur de sel aux pecanes et chocolat, if you want to sound fancy in some non-Francophone milieu – and, if you are unfamiliar with the term, I do not mean someone named Frank on the phone but speakers of French).
I noticed on a trip to France a few years ago that caramels with fleur de sel had become very popular. It must be the combination of contrasts, between the caramel’s rich sweetness with the fleur de sel‘s saltiness (mais, oui!) as well as the caramel’s thick-creaminess with a bit of crunch from the salt. The fleur de sel makes me think of crack cocaine, which I believe looks like white crystalline chunks – not entirely unlike clumps of the French sea salt – and fleur de sel makes the caramels absolutely addictive.
Thus, when I found a recipe for soft salted caramels from the fine Canadian food writer Lucy Waverman a few months later, I needed to try it. Lucy had adapted a recipe from the great Jacques Pepin. It is easy enough to make if one has a candy thermometer and can follow directions precisely. I had never made caramels before but found the recipe straight-forward, simple, and fun, though requiring a bit of time and one’s attention. But it is worth the effort.
For the inspiration – and the recipe, keep reading.
The original recipe was for the caramels alone, and it is worth making, unadorned. But I wanted to go a couple of steps further, adding pecans and coating in dark chocolate. Thinking of “turtles” (and I am sure the name of this candy is copyrighted, so I will await the lawsuit…), I realized that the caramels would be even better with the nutty chewiness of the pecans and the dark luxury of bittersweet chocolate.
I was correct in my “turtle” instincts, and here is a recipe suitable for National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day, the holiday season, or any day requiring a special treat.
- ½ cup salted butter, cut into pieces
- ½ cup heavy or whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon fleur de sel
- 3 tablespoons water
- ¼ cup corn syrup or Golden Syrup (I used the latter for a darker caramel, though the corn syrup works well, too, and either will produce the same consistency)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Cut parchment paper to fit the base of an oiled loaf pan.
- Cut a second sheet of parchment paper and place crosswise, across the pan, allowing the ends to drape over the sides to help you lift out the caramel.
- Place butter, cream and fleur de sel in a heavy pot over medium heat and, while stirring now-and-then, cook together until butter is melted. Set aside.
- Combine the water, Golden Syrup or corn syrup, and sugar in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and bring to boil.
- Cover for 1 minute with lid so any sugar on the sides will be go into the liquid. This is to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.)
- Uncover and boil about 6 minutes or so, just until a candy thermometer reads 305 F.
- Carefully stir in cream and butter mixture – the mixture will boil up very dramatically! Be careful. The temperature will drop.
- Bring back to a boil again until a candy thermometer reads 240 F, about 3 minutes longer or so.
- Pour mixture into prepared loaf pan but do not scrape any that is left behind in the pot (this you can eat to ensure quality control of the finished product…).
- Cool at room temperature for 2 hours, then refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Remove from loaf pan and cut into rectangles or squares with an oiled knife
- Sprinkle with a little extra fleur de sel and wrap in waxed paper or cellophane, if desired. (Try to envision small “logs”, like Tootsie Rolls, and twist both ends of wrappers, accordingly for an old-fashioned look).
- Make nine two-inch patties out of caramels, which should look like small disks or hockey pucks.
- Place three pecans on top of each disk, parallel to each other, pressing in slightly but firmly. Place on a non-stick liner (e.g., Silpat), parchment paper, or wax paper on cookie sheet and refrigerate for ½ to 1 hour.
- Melt chocolate, either in microwave (50% power at 30 second intervals) or in a double-boiler. Cool slightly.
- Using two forks for support underneath one disc, submerge in chocolate. Working quickly with a small spoon, try to cover the top of the disc and smooth out the top.
- Place on lined cookie sheet (used above). Put one pecan half in centre of top and push gently into chocolate.
- When chocolate has hardened, place into muffin liners, if you like.
- Eat and celebrate whatever you like.