Handmade Chocolate Turtles
This is the time of year that people focus on family and family traditions. In our family, one of the traditions for the holiday season is making Handmade Chocolate Turtles. Allow me to reword that, one of our traditions is for me to make Handmade Chocolate Turtles and my family to eat Handmade Chocolate Turtles ……
One of the other traditions we have is making Sour Cabbage Rolls. Both are time consuming with minimal ingredients but I think I would have a family revolt if I didn’t make them every Christmas. I won’t lie, these take forever and are finicky as heck to make. However, everyone loves them and they make a lovely hostess gift for the season. There are few ingredients. In fact, it is one of the shortest ingredient lists ever — chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and pecans. That is it! Sounds easy, right?
The ingredient list is super simple but the art of making the turtles is not. For years, I had a group of friends in Calgary and each Christmas we would get together and do a baking day together (with maybe the odd splash of wine and a mid-afternoon hottub). Everyone would do one or two recipes and then everyone went home with a share of everything. We worked our tails off but there were so many laughs through the day. I do miss my gals since we moved away from Calgary.
I remember the first year we did our baking day and I decided to do my Handmade Chocolate Turtles. Our family tradition was that I made them for my family but I never really thought through the length of time it would take to do Handmade Chocolate Turtles for five families! It took FOREVER! I think at the end of the day everyone ended up with 12 turtles or something like that. Everyone took turns helping me until they inevitably tapped out saying “this is insane. What a pain in the …….”
So, have I sold you on the fun you will have making Handmade Chocolate Turtles for your family? What if I told you, you will be universally adored? Here is the best part in our family….. no one can agree on a favourite chocolate so I get to make white, milk and dark chocolate turtles…. The recipe below is what I use for each colour and it results in 24 medium turtles and 28 mini turtles.
Some people make Homemade Chocolate Turtles free hand but I prefer to make it a lot more work and use a turtle mold. There are links to turtle molds that you can pay from Amazon on the right hand side of the page. The turtles do look a lot better out of the molds so that is why I put the extra time in. A time saving tip is buy LOTS of molds and then you will not have to wash them in between the different kinds of chocolate. Cleaning the molds is a big pain because chocolate and water don’t mix so you have to meticulously scrub the mold and then meticulously dry out the mold before reusing it. If you have enough molds, you just wash them all at the end and let them air dry!
Caramelizing Sweetened Condensed Milk
The first thing I do is caramelize the sweetened condensed milk. There are two ways I have done it.
The first way is to pour the milk into a canning jar and then put the sealed canning jar into a pot of water on the stove and boil it until it caramelizes. This method usually takes a couple of hours but the only time you have to put into it is to occasionally refill the water that has evaporated off. Other than that, it doesn’t take any active cooking. Advantage is that it largely takes care of itself. Disadvantage is that you have to be organized to get it started ahead and turtle day is long enough as is!
The second method is the microwave method. It takes way less time but you are dealing with the process every step of the way. It takes about 10 -15 minutes depending on your microwave.
Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a large microwavable container. Use a container that is way bigger than your milk fill. As the milk heats, it will boil up so the more room you have for it to do that without boiling over, the better your chances are of avoiding having to wipe out the base of your microwave of sweetened condensed milk.
Put in your microwave on high for 2 minutes. Take it out and stir it and then reduce the power to 50% and cook for one minute. Then reduce the power again to between 10 and 30%.
Basically, you are going to continually watch the milk and interrupt the cooking process just as it is about to boil over. At that point, take it out and stir it. Do NOT look away from the caramel at any time or it will absolutely choose that second to boil over all over your microwave. If it appears to be about to boil over at any time, stop the microwave immediately and stir it.
Continue cooking and stirring until it darkens a bit and thickens. It will have a mottled look to it when it is ready. Keep in mind that it will stiffen up a bit once it cools.
Melting Chocolate for Painting
Once your caramel is ready, assemble your turtle molds and a small clean paint brush. Yes, I am serious.
Next, melt your chocolate. Use a high quality chocolate. I use Callebaut chocolate. You can melt the chocolate in the microwave or the double boiler. I have had good success melting it in the microwave without wrecking it but I have decided that I like the continued heat that the double boiler gives me. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put it in your double boiler over boiling water. Stir occasionally and once it is all melted, you are ready to start your chocolate art!
Painting the Turtle Mold
I leave the melted chocolate in the double boiler over the hot water so it keeps it a nice consistency for longer. The first step is to coat the turtle mold with a layer of chocolate. The tricky bit here is to make sure that you coat the mold with a thin layer of the chocolate. It needs to be thick enough to provide a solid outside to the turtle but thin enough that you have room for a dab of caramel, a pecan piece and a final fill of chocolate. I spoon some chocolate into the bottom of turtle shell. Then, take a paint brush and paint the chocolate all over the mold.
Handy tip is to lift the mold up and look at it from the bottom. You can often see areas where you have missing some chocolate that aren’t as obvious looking at it as you paint. Once you have coated each turtle, pop the mold into the fridge to chill while you go on to the next mold. I am lucky enough to be able to use the “walk-out fridge” to chill my turtles as our outdoor temperature is about minus 6 Celsius right now.
Filling the Handmade Chocolate Turtles
Once you have painted all your molds, the first mold you put in the fridge will be ready for you to add some caramel and then a half pecan (unless you are doing the mini turtles in which case you probably will only use a 1/4 pecan).
I put the rounded side of the pecan down into the caramel so that when I do my final fill with chocolate, I end up with a nice flat bottom. Once I have filled my turtles with the chocolate, I gently drop the mold onto the table a few times to encourage any air bubbles to surface. Pop them back in the chiller to set. Depending on the temperature, this takes 15 minutes plus. Continue on until you are ready to claw your own eyes out. Wine helps….
Removing Handmade Chocolate Turtles From the Mold
Remove the chilled mold from the chiller. Turn upside down over a plate. Gently push the turtles out of the mold onto the plate. If you have a lot of trouble with the turtles releasing, you likely have not chilled them enough. You can’t be too aggressive twisting the cold mold or it will crack and then you will be sad.
If you are feeling motivated, you can trim any excess chocolate off the turtles to have a perfect turtle shape. By this point in the process, I have little motivation left so don’t always trim them. They are always a hit though, trimmed or not!
Handmade Chocolate Turtles
Time consuming but always a big hit!
- 10 ounce sweetened condensed milk one can
- 25 ounces chocolate any quality kind, chopped
- 52 pecan halves
Place your turtle molds and a small, clean paintbrush in your work area.
Pour sweetened condensed milk into large microwaveable container. Place in microwave on high for two minutes. Remove and stir. Return to microwave and reduce power to 50% and time to one minute. Remove and stir. Reduce power to between 10 and 30% power depending on the power of your microwave. You will need to stir every 30 to 40 seconds to prevent the milk from boiling over. It will take 10 - 15 minutes depending on your microwave.
Set up double boiler on your stove top and add the chocolate. Stir occasionally and keep on the heat until chocolate is melted and smooth.
Remove pot from the heat and place it on a heat resistant surface in your work area.
Using a small spoon, add some melted chocolate to each turtle mold. Using your paint brush, paint the chocolate over the mold to cover each part of it. Once the tray is complete, lift the mold over head and look at it from the bottom to identify any spots you may have missed.
Chill until set.
Once the chocolate has set firmly, add a dollop of caramelized sweetened condensed milk into the belly of the turtle. See photos in post above for visual aid.
Place one pecan half round side down into the caramel and then fill the remaining space in the turtle mold with more melted chocolate.
Once you have filled all of the turtles in the mold, gently drop the tray a few times to dislodge any air bubbles.
Return to chiller until it sets.
Once the chocolate has set completely, turn the mold upside down and pop the turtles out on to a plate. It sometimes takes a bit of effort to get them out but if you are having a lot of trouble, you likely have not let them set long enough.