Caramel clusters, or turtles as some people call them, are the perfect holiday treat and make fantastic gifts. Besides making the fussy caramel, these are quick and easy treats that even your friends or family members who hate baking can easily help you put together.
Once you make the caramel, you just have to pour one ingredient on top of the other. Then snack on these chewies delights while you’re baking all your holiday pies! If you need inspiration for those, head on over here.
Honey works here in place of corn syrup because they are both “invert sugars,” which help prevent the caramels from crystallizing. If you love science, read more about that here.
Honey Caramel Clusters
Caramel Clusters, chocolate turtles, whatever you call them, are some of my favorite holiday treats. They are low-maintenance and easy once you get the caramel down to a science. This recipe for chewy caramel uses honey instead of corn syrup for additional flavor.
- 200 grams semi-sweet or dark chocolate
- 16 ounces pecans, walnuts, or almonds
- sea salt for sprinkling
- 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cover a large surface with wax paper or preferred nonstick, heat resistant material. Make 45-50 small piles of pecans with at least 1/2-inch of space between each one.
Heat heavy cream and butter in a small pan or skillet just until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and keep near.
Add water, sugar, and honey to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir just until all sugar is evenly moistened and water is evenly distributed across the pan. Use a damp paper towel or a wet pastry brush to remove sugar granules from the side of the pan. Stop stirring and don't stir again until removing from heat. Clip candy-thermometer to the side of the pan.
Cook the sugar syrup for 15-20 minutes over medium heat, avoiding stirring at all costs. The syrup will begin to bubble along the sides of the pan and eventually the boil will spread to the center. Continue boiling until the caramel is dark-amber and begins to smell like caramel. Since this recipe doesn't have corn syrup, the sugar syrup needs to heat to 300F to avoid sugar crystallization. Do not heat syrup above 325F.
Once the syrup reaches 300F and is deep amber, remove immediately from the heat and whisk the warmed cream and butter into the pan. The syrup will bubble violently at this step, but keep whisking until all cream is added and the bubbling will subside.
Return caramel to the burner on medium-high and clip candy-thermometer to the side of the pan. Bring to a full boil and do not stir. Boil until the caramel reaches 245-250F, about 10 minutes.
While caramel is boiling, melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, careful not to burn it. Set aside.
Once caramel is 245F, remove immediately from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour caramel into a heat resistant bowl and work quickly so the caramel doesn't set before you're finished.
Using a spoon, place a dollop of caramel on each pile of pecans until all the caramel is used. Then cover caramel with warmed chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt. Allow clusters to set, about 1 hour.
The most important tip I have for making caramel is to use a thermometer. You'll make perfect caramel every time if you watch the temperature closely, heat it precisely, and remove it from the heat immediately when it reaches the desired temperature.
For more notes on creating perfect caramel, check out The Kitchn's article and recipe for chewy caramel.