Chocolate and caramel have an undeniable affinity. Add pecans to that union and you’ve struck gold. These nut-studded nuggets of chewy, caramel-filled chocolate, affectionately dubbed “turtles,” are found in bakeries and coffeehouses from coast to coast.
But replicating a bakery-quality turtle brownie at home is tough, especially because most recipes call for jarred caramel sauce or melted store-bought caramel candies, which give the brownies insipid flavor and a waxy texture. Simple homemade caramel—chewy and gooey, viscous enough to hold its form—is the only way to go. Drizzle some of it into the brownie batter and reserve the rest to pour over the top (the pecans adhere nicely) for the ultimate in turtle perfection.
1. Don’t let sugar stick to the pan sides: Pour the water into a medium saucepan and then pour the sugar into the center of the pan (don’t let it hit the pan sides). Gently stir the sugar with a clean spatula to wet it thoroughly. If the sugar hits the sides of the pan it will stick and not dissolve into the water, eventually causing the caramel to crystallize and ruin the sauce. If you see any sugar crystals sticking to the sides of the pan, brush them back into the water with a very clean wet pastry brush.
2. Don’t stir at first: Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved completely and the liquid has a faint golden color. It is during this part of the caramel making that the sugar is most likely to crystallize. These crystals are caused by a combination of undissolved sugar granules or other foreign bits that have fallen into the syrup and agitation. By not stirring, you reduce both the amount of agitation and the chance that any foreign bits will fall into the pot.
3. Watch the color: Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the caramel has a dark amber color. Caramel cooks very quickly once it starts to show color, so keep your eye on it (don’t walk away from the stove). Turning down the heat and stirring the caramel (stirring is OK at this point) ensure that it will brown evenly.
4. Add the cream slowly off the heat: If you are making sauce, remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk the cream into the hot caramel until combined. The caramel is very hot at this point, and stirring in the cold cream will create lots of steam and vigorous bubbles—be sure to remove the pan from the heat and add the cream very slowly. Also, keep your face and hands away from the pan.
Making Turtle Brownies
1. Spread half of the brownie batter evenly in the prepared baking pan, then drizzle with a scant ¼ cup warm caramel.
2. Repeat with the remaining brownie batter and another scant ¼ cup of the caramel. Using the tip of a butter knife, swirl the caramel and brownie batter together.
3. After the brownies are baked and cooled, reheat the remaining caramel in the microwave, then pour and spread evenly over the brownies.
4. Remove the brownies from the pan, remove the foil, and cut into 25 brownies. Press a pecan half into each brownie.