Chocolate Pecan Turtle Bars – Pecan short bread is layered with pecan halves, homemade caramel, and smooth milk chocolate to make a crispy, crunchy sweet treat.
As we begin to say goodbye to summer and welcome in the fall season, my baking desires seem to ramp up. So long, healthy fruits and veggies, and hello sugar, flour, and chocolate!
Something that’s been on my list to make for a while was chocolate turtles. You know, the little pecan, caramel, chocolate clusters that are made to look like little turtles? I bought a huge bag of pecans with the intention to make a batch of them. But it just never happened.
Part of the reason I never made them was probably because of the time commitment. I don’t have the patience for candy making – each piece needs to look so perfect and that requires time I just don’t feel like setting aside. But how do I satisfy this craving for pecans, caramel, and chocolate?!
The answer: Chocolate Pecan Turtle Bars!
What are chocolate turtles?
As I mentioned above, chocolate turtles are little clusters of whole pecans that are held together with caramel and topped with melted chocolate. The resulting cluster looks like a little turtle.
How are these chocolate pecan turtle bars made?
Instead of making a classic turtle, I turned them into a bar. This cuts down on the preparation time, which I’m a huge fan of.
This bar has 4 main components:
- Pecan shortbread crust
- Whole pecans
- Homemade caramel
- Milk chocolate
Pecan shortbread crust
To give the bar some stability, I made sure to have a crust on the bottom that can hold the other ingredients without falling apart. As such, shortbread was the logical choice since it’s firm yet tender when you bite into it.
To make the crust, you simple mix butter, brown sugar, flour, and chopped pecans together and bake until firm.
Once the crust is baked, the whole pecans are added on top. I toast the pecans before adding so they have a crunch and the raw taste is gone. I used to toast nuts in the oven but I find the stove top much faster
Okay now comes the most important layer – the homemade caramel. It’s the most important because it requires the most attention and focus and, if not done properly, the bars just won’t work. But don’t worry! Making caramel from scratch is easier than it sounds.
The caramel starts by caramelizing the sugar over the stove. It’s so fun to watch the clear sugar go to golden then to amber and become the base of the caramel sauce. Once that happens, warm cream and butter is added and the caramel is cooked. Without the cream or butter, the sugar would firm up and become crunchy so this step is key to creating the smooth texture.
Another key to achieving the right texture is temperature. If you don’t cook the caramel enough, it’s too liquidy. If you cook it too long, it becomes too chewy and sticky and hard to work with. Therefore, you NEED a candy thermometer for this recipe to monitor the temperature. I have a digital one that makes it so much easier to read the temperature.
Once the caramel is done, it’s poured over the pecans and pecan shortbread crust. The caramel layer is then left to set until no longer gooey.
The final layer is the chocolate. I use milk chocolate because it’s what I prefer in my candy recipes. But you can easily use semi-sweet or dark, if that’s what you like.
To make this layer, you simply melt the chocolate over a double-boiler. This ensures the chocolate does not burn and seize up. In addition, I only melt about 2/3 of the chips. Once melted, I add in the remaining 1/3 to bring the temperature of the chocolate back down, while still remaining melted. This is called tempering and will cause the chocolate to firm up back to its solid state when cooled.
The melted chocolate is then smoothed over the caramel layer. The bars are left to set until the chocolate has firmed up. This can take some time if the other layers are still warm. If you get impatient, throw them in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.
Tips & Tricks
- If you’ve never made caramel from scratch, you really need a candy thermometer. It takes the guess work out of knowing when it’s ready and will ensure you don’t burn it.
- Before you add the chocolate layer, you MUST let the caramel cool and set. This will ensure the melted chocolate will easily spread over it without mixing.
- Do not try to cut these bars until the chocolate has firmed up – or else you could have an extremely messy situation on your hands. If you are getting impatient, just pop the bars in the fridge for 10 minutes to help them cool down.
Chocolate Pecan Turtle Bars
For the shortbread crust:
- 1 ½ cup flour
- ¾ cup light brown sugar packed
- ½ cup butter salted, cold
- ½ cup pecans chopped
For the caramel layer:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons butter unsalted, diced
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- ¼ cup water
- 1 teaspoon mild sea salt (use half as much if using regular salt)
For the bars:
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 1 12-ounce bag milk chocolate chips
For the shortbread crust:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13×9 casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray
- Mix the flour and brown sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Pull the 1/2 cup butter from the fridge. Cut the butter into small cubes. Toss into the flour and brown sugar mixture. Using a pastry blender (or two knives), cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is the size of small crumbs.
- Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans with the rest of the crust mixture. Press the mixture into the greased dish until it is firmly-packed into the bottom of the dish. Bake for 15 minutes in a preheated oven and then remove to cool.
- Next, toast the pecans in a saute pan over medium heat until the pecans start to get fragrant and brown a little, about 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle over the cooked shortbread crust.
For the caramel layer:
- Place cream and butter in a small sauce pan and place over medium low heat. Once the butter has melted and just before the cream boils, turn off heat and set aside.
- In a large sauce pan, add sugar, water, and corn syrup and stir together. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook sugar mixture, without stirring but swirling pan occasionally, until it is beginning to turn golden-amber in color, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Very carefully, pour hot cream mixture into sugar mixture. It will bubble ferociously. Stir until combined. Clip candy thermometer to side of pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches 248ºF (firm ball stage), 10 to 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow caramel to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Then pour over the pecans and shortbread in a smooth even layer. Let cool for 1 hour.
For the chocolate layer:
- Once the caramel layer has set for an hour, it's time to melt the chocolate chips. Heat two-thirds of chocolate chips in heat-proof bowl set over pan of simmering water until melted. Then, remove from heat. Stir in remaining third of chocolate chips until melted.*
- Pour over the caramel layer and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Let set for at least 1 hour or until chocolate hardens again.
- Once chocolate has turned solid, cut bars into 24 perfect squares.