When I was a little girl, every time my grandmother came to visit she would make us candy from scratch. She was a wonderful woman, but when she did this, she became omnipotent! If you have never made candy, it is an amazing thing to watch. The sugar cooks for what seems like forever and then it suddenly becomes golden caramel color! Every time I see it happen I get the same sense of wonderment.
We had a candy thermometer, but Mimi learned without using one, so just to have fun (and pass on the tradition) she taught me the age-old ways of telling when candy was ready … forming a ball in a bowl of cold water, and watching for the sugar to spin a thread. What an amazing education she gave me as a young child watching her turn sugar and water into candy!
You shouldn’t be afraid of making caramel, but you should be cautious when doing so. Wear long sleeves and close-toed shoes, and have a bowl of cold water nearby in case of burns. Stand back when adding anything to boiling caramel because it can splatter you. Just like anything else in the kitchen, use common sense and have a healthy respect for molten sugar.
You have a choice of making two different kinds of candy with this recipe. You can pour the candy into a pan and cut into squares which you can serve as is or dip in melted chocolate. Or you can top arranged pecans with caramel and then dip in chocolate to make Turtles (when you use 5 pecan halves they look like a head and four legs sticking out from under the caramel-chocolate shell).
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own caramel, you can buy premade caramel, either in bulk from vendors such as King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com) or the individually wrapped caramels in the grocery store. Soften them in the microwave, roll into small balls, and press onto the pecans. Let them firm up in the refrigerator before dipping in chocolate.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
For the easiest way to make caramel-pecan candies, buy bulk caramel and chocolate disks. Cut caramel into cubes and flatten slightly into a disk about 2-inches in diameter. Place pecans in small piles on a silpat-lined baking sheet. Press the caramel disks onto each pile. Warm in oven for a few minutes until caramel softens. Remove from oven and top each caramel with a chocolate disk. It will soften from the heat of the caramel, or you can return to the oven for another minute. Let harden before attempting to remove from the baking sheet.
- 3 cups pecan halves
- 8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 4 oz milk chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup dark corn syrup
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups evaporated milk, divided
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Grease a 9x11-inch pan or line a baking sheet with a silpat; set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly toast pecans and set aside to cool.
- Melt chocolates together in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. The steam will gently melt the chocolate without scorching it. When it is mostly melted, remove from the heat and stir until completely smooth. Set aside until ready to use. If it gets too thick, reheat slowly over simmering water, stirring, until smooth again.
- In a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugars, syrup, butter and 1 cup of the evaporated milk, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the other cup of evaporated milk slowly, stirring constantly, and cook stirring occasionally, until it reaches 255°F on a candy thermometer (hard ball stage). Add the vanilla and mix well.
- To make Chocolate Dipped Caramel Squares: Stir in pecans, pour into prepared pan without scraping the pan, and refrigerate. When firm, bring to room temperature, cut into squares then dip in chocolate.
- To make Turtles: On silpat-lined baking sheet, make sets of 5 pecans each (4 legs and a head), slightly separated or chop pecans and place in small piles. Pour dollops of caramel into center of each set, partially covering each pecan (caramel becomes the turtle’s shell). Transfer to refrigerator to set. When firm, dip in melted chocolate.