If you’re as big a fan of caramel turtles as I am, then you simply must make this recipe. Caramel turtles are an old-fashioned candy that’s made from crunchy pecans, soft, buttery caramel and either milk, white or dark chocolate. I have fond memories of my dad buying a big box of caramel turtles for my mom’s birthday every year and how not long after the box was open, I was able to share in the celebration by eating one or two turtles myself. I can almost taste the pecans, caramel and chocolate, all together in one delicious bite – yum! My mother’s birthday tradition has long since passed, but caramel turtles will always have a sweet spot in my heart (and stomach), so when I saw a recipe for caramel turtle bars, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest until I made them-- but this time with a healthy twist, of course!
My healthier version of caramel turtle bars begins with a shortbread crust that’s made with Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Flour, Hodgson Mill Naturally White Flour and Hodgson Mill Milled Flax Seed. I’ve found that layered treats like these bars are a great place to include whole grains. With multiple flavors, whole grains can go unnoticed and even improve the taste and texture of one or more layers without detection from even the pickiest eaters. In these caramel turtle bars for example, the whole wheat and milled flax seed adds more crunch and a nutty flavor to the shortbread layer as well as providing a solid base for the pecans, caramel and chocolate ganache thanks to the extra fiber they add to the crust. No one in my family knew that they were getting heart-healthy whole grains in each bite as they licked their sticky finger tips and sought a second helping of these delectable caramel turtle bars.
To make the shortbread crust, in a medium-sized bowl whisk the butter, brown sugar and salt together until combined. Then add the flour and milled flax seed, stirring until a stiff dough has formed.
Place the dough in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan that’s been lined with aluminum foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Be sure to allow the aluminum foil to hang over the ends of the pan so the excess foil can be used as handles to remove the bars from the pan later on.
Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan and then prick the dough all over with a fork to prevent the crust from getting overly puffy as it bakes.
Refrigerate the crust for 30 minutes (or freeze for 10 to 15 minutes), until the dough is firm. Bake the crust in a 325°F oven for 20 minutes and then decrease the oven temperature to 300°F for 10 to 15 more minutes or until the crust is golden brown all over.
Sprinkle the top of the crust with pecans and set aside. I strongly recommend toasting the pecans for this recipe. Toasting allows the pecans flavor to becomes more pronounced and the texture to become a bit more crunchy, which in turn makes these caramel turtle bars all that more delicious. To toast the pecans, spread them out onto a large baking sheet and stick them in the oven for the first fifteen minutes while the shortbread bakes. They’ll be toasted and ready to chop in no time.
Now it’s time to make the caramel. Make sure that when you get to this step, your full attention can be given to the molten hot, boiling, caramelizing sugar in front of you. Rule number one in successful caramel making: do not walk away from the pot. That being said, making homemade caramel isn’t hard and with the aid of a candy thermometer, it’s completely doable.
Start by putting the brown sugar, cream, butter, corn syrup and salt in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has melted and the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Let the mixture continue to boil until a candy thermometer registers at 240°F, about 5 to 6 minutes.
If making your own caramel isn’t possible, you can use a bag of soft caramel candies, unwrap each piece, and carefully melt them in the microwave.
Once the candy thermometer reads 240°F, remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the caramel evenly over the pecan-sprinkled crust. Let the bars cool completely, about 3 hours, before moving on to the chocolate layer. Beware: this caramel is HOT! Don’t be tempted to sneak a taste for at least the first 30 minutes. Your fingers and tongue can thank me later.
Next, put the chocolate and cream in a small bowl and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until the chocolate becomes melted. Stir the mixture together until smooth and set aside to cool for five minutes.
Pour the chocolate into a zip-top baggie, snip off a corner and drizzle the ganache over the cooled caramel bars. I didn’t use all of the ganache because I wanted the caramel and pecans to peek through this last layer. The leftover chocolate can be kept in the refrigerator and used as desired for up to five days. Feel free to substitute milk or white chocolate for the bittersweet chocolate on these bars– you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Let the chocolate ganache set and become firm, about an hour (or sooner if you put the pan in the refrigerator) and then carefully lift the bars from the pan using the foil as handles and transfer them to a cutting board. Separate the foil from the bars and cut them into rectangles, squares or whatever shapes you prefer. I found it helpful to spray my knife with non-stick cooking spray in between slices to keep the blade from becoming too sticky. The bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week, although I doubt they’ll last that long once you’ve had a taste.
These Whole Wheat Caramel Turtle Bars with Milled Flax Seed turned out to be a great, healthier version of my favorite caramel turtle candy. The crisp shortbread crust has the perfect taste and texture due to the addition of Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Flour and Hodgson Mill Milled Flax Seed and the crunchy toasted pecans and buttery, soft caramel bring home the true taste of the candy I was looking for. Oh, and you can’t forget the chocolate ganache topping! Chocolate is never a bad thing in my book and it certainly adds a richness and the perfect finishing touch to these delicious caramel turtle bars.
If you’re a caramel turtle fan like me or are looking for a special treat to make for the holidays, be sure to put these Whole Wheat Caramel Turtle Bars with Milled Flax Seed at the top of your baking list. I have a feeling they’ll be remembered fondly by all who are lucky enough to have a taste. Enjoy!
Whole Wheat Caramel Turtle Bars with Milled Flax Seed
In a medium-sized bowl, mix butter, brown sugar and salt together until combined. Add flour and milled flax seed, stirring until a stiff dough has formed. Place dough in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan lined with aluminum foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, leaving extra foil overhanging pan edges. Press dough evenly into bottom of pan and prick dough all over with a fork to prevent crust from getting overly puffy as it bakes. Refrigerate crust for 30 minutes (or freeze for 10 to 15 minutes), until dough is firm. Bake crust in a 325°F oven for 20 minutes and then decrease oven temperature to 300°F for 10 to 15 more minutes or until crust is golden brown all over. Sprinkle top of crust with pecans and set aside. (Toasted pecans are recommended. See above directions for how to toast pecans.)
Next, put brown sugar, cream, butter, corn syrup and salt in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has melted and the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Let the mixture continue to boil until a candy thermometer registers at 240°F, about 5 to 6 minutes. Once at 240°F, remove pan from heat and immediately pour caramel evenly over pecan-sprinkled crust. Let bars cool completely, about 3 hours.
For ganache, put chocolate and cream in a small bowl and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until chocolate becomes melted. Stir mixture together until smooth and set aside to cool for five minutes. Pour chocolate into a zip-top baggie, snip off a corner and drizzle ganache over cooled caramel bars. Leftover chocolate ganache can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Let chocolate ganache set and become firm, about an hour (or sooner if pan is refrigerated) and then carefully lift bars from pan using foil edges as handles and transfer to a cutting board. Separate foil from bars and cut into rectangles, squares or whatever shapes preferred. Bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Makes approximately 4 dozen, 1 ½- inch-square bars
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
You can find Whole Wheat Caramel Turtle Bars with Milled Flax Seed and other recipes from Hodgson Mill by visiting the Recipes page.