07 May 2009
revelations & caramelizations
A couple weeks ago I asked my boyfriend what flavor truffles I could make his mom for Mother's Day. He thought about it for a minute and then asked if, instead, I could make chocolate turtles, which are one of his mom's favorite treats. "Absolutely," I said, feigning confidence. Later that day I searched for turtle recipes, but all I could find were ones that involved using store-bought caramel candies. I wanted a recipe that used a homemade caramel, since I'd be making my own and I was looking for guidance on getting the right consistency (recently I sampled a homemade vegan turtle with caramel so chewy that I thought I was about to pull out a tooth; I decided giving Bryan's mom a missing tooth might not be the best present).
The thing is, I've experimented some with making caramel and various confections using sugar, and the results have been varied. Maybe my candy thermometer is off, or maybe it's just a bit trickier than I realized. It just seems like such a fine line between something that is too hard or too chewy or not enough . . .
So for the next two weeks I periodically looked online, became bored after looking at a few unhelpful sites, and gave up. Finally, on about my fifth attempt, I found Do Life Right's recipe for vegan chocolate turtles and David Lebovitz's site, which were helpful, although they weren't exactly what I was looking for in terms of specific guidance for my specific purposes. So, what did I do? Well, I played around until I got something I liked. And I really liked it. And so did Bryan's mom.
Unfortunately, I still don't have enough information to give a really solid recipe, with lots of guidance and specific times or temperatures. But, I'll give what I have, at least, and hopefully someday I'll have the perfect, fool-proof formula for homemade vegan turtles. In the meantime, if you find anything helpful, send it my way.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegan butter
1/4 cup vegan milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 75 pecans, or more if you prefer
good quality chocolate with high cocoa content
cocoa butter, if desired*
Lightly toast the pecans (Put on a lined baking sheet in the oven at 350 F for 5-10 minutes). Arrange pecans in clusters of 3 (or 4 or however-many-you-want) on nonstick sheets (I use something similar to silpat but if you don't have something like that, your best bet is probably wax paper. Parchment paper lightly sprayed with a nonstick spray may also work, although I haven't tried it. Once your pecans are ready, begin making the caramel. Have all your ingredients measured and ready to go.
In a large, heavy pot melt the sugar over medium/low heat. Once the sugar begins to melt, stir gently to keep it from burning.
[Here's where things got a bit fuzzy]
I took it off the heat whenever I felt like it should be about right (a little earlier, just incase. Most of my disasters have been from overheated sugar, so I wanted to be on the safe side). I added the butter and soymilk and vanilla extract and drizzled the resulting syrup over a couple clusters of pecans. It spread out a lot and, after waiting about 15 minutes (and then another 15 minutes), I realized it wasn't going to thicken up enough.
So, I put the pot back on the stove and brought the liquid to a simmer again for a few minutes. I removed it from the heat and dipped the bottom of the pan in cool water. I let the caramel sauce cool a bit in the pan to thicken up before spreading it ontop of the pecan clusters. The caramel, even when completely cooled, was still very gooey (but not too liquidy). Maybe that's "soft ball stage"? For me it was the perfect consistency to fill a chocolate turtle. The only trouble was figuring out how to coat it in chocolate. I finally succeeded by chilling the caramel pecans in the fridge until they were firm enough to be dipped in the tempered chocolate.
You don't have to temper your chocolate that you use for dipping, but it makes such a difference. Not only is the presentation much nicer, but your turtles will also have that lovely snap, and they'll keep longer.
*Using a little bit of additional cocoa butter when you are using temepered chocolate for dipping helps give the coating more of a luster and is a million, billion times better than using parafin or any of the other weird things some cheap chocolates use instead. Cocoa butter is natural, it tastes much better, and you can easily find fair trade cocoa butter online (look on amazon or at Chocolate Alchemy, which is where I buy mine pounds at a time).
Finally, I'm about to reveal that mystery food from my last post. There were some good guesses, but the photograph is actually of a clove of black garlic.
And now I'm afraid I'll have to finish this post some other time. More to come on black garlic!