Kitchen :: Chocolate & Salted Caramel Turtles

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The first time I can remember tasting a fresh Medjool date was two years ago, at the downtown farmer's market. I was walking by the stand of local organic grower Del Real, and they offered me a taste. After just one bite, I fell in love with the candy-like fruit. Over the following months, I tried them in sweet and savory recipes, snacked on them, and basically giggled with delight every time the dates' sticky sweetness passed my lips... and then I never blogged about them. Bad blogger!

That I've never shared a single date recipe with you is a shame, because good dates - especially fresh ones - are a wonder, and a world away from the hard, dry variety many American grocers carry. Whether eaten out of hand, stuffed with any number of savory fillings, or blended into a velvety winter squash soup, you really can't go wrong with these lovelies. 

Of course, they're also fantastic in desserts. So when Amy from Fragrant Vanilla Cake posted a recipe for raw/vegan salted caramel on her Facebook page, I knew I had to try it. I had been playing around with making raw/vegan chocolate, and had a full jar of pecans on the counter. What better use of caramel, chocolate and pecans could there be, if not turtles?

These gooey, crunchy, salty-sweet treats are positively addictive. They are also dairy-, gluten-, and processed sugar-free. Most important, these turtles have been kid-tested and approved by my three children, including my son, who doesn't even like fruit. A kid who doesn't like fruit sounds a little weird, I know. But these turtles aren't.

(Mostly) Raw/Vegan Chocolate & Salted Caramel Turtles
Chocolate recipe is my own. Caramel recipe adapted from Fragrant Vanilla Cake's Facebook Page. I couldn't find Amy's original FB post, but this recipe on her blog includes a similar caramel recipe.

I anticipate some readers will take me to task over my use of honey in this recipe, which is not vegan. And while we're on the subject, maple syrup and vanilla extract are not raw, nor is smoked salt. I use them anyway, and I am 100% okay with that. But if you prefer to follow a strictly raw/vegan diet, sub in agave syrup for the sweeteners and vanilla bean paste for the extract (sorry, I have no idea on quantities), and omit the smoked salt.

Use the freshest Medjool dates you can find. If your dates are on the dry side, soak them in warm water for an hour or so (depending on how firm they are), until very soft.

A word about the chocolate. I've tried a few different kinds of raw/vegan chocolate desserts - homemade, from the store, and at restaurants - and my two main complaints are that they are often grainy and way too sweet. This recipe solves the first problem by whizzing the chocolate mixture in a blender to smooth it out, and the second by greatly reducing the sweetener. If you're a dark chocolate fan like me, you'll love these. 

Use organic whenever possible.

Chocolate Ingredients:
heaping 1/2 cup chopped raw cacao butter (~52 grams)
4 tablespoons raw honey
1/3 cup raw cacao powder
1/8 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Caramel Ingredients:
1 cup Medjool dates, softened and pitted
2 tablespoons coconut butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
heaping 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
2-3 pinches smoked sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons water

Additional Ingredients:
48 pecan halves (raw)
Maldon sea salt ~or~ Fleur de Sel, for sprinkling 

Make the chocolate*:
1. Bring a small pot of water to boil; remove from heat. Add the cacao butter to a bowl large enough to fit inside the pot without falling in. Place the bowl over the pot of water, taking care to ensure the bowl does not touch the water (pour off some water if necessary). Stir the cacao butter with a spoon or spatula until melted.

2. Place the honey, cacao powder, Himalayan sea salt and vanilla in a blender. Pour in the melted cacao butter. Blend at the lowest speed, just until the mixture is smooth. 

3. Pour chocolate into a small bowl and set aside in a warm place until you are ready to assemble the turtles.

Make the caramel*:
1. Place all ingredients except the water in a food processor fitted with an "S" blade. Add 2 tablespoons of the water.

2. Process until smooth, adding additional water by the teaspoon if the mixture seems too thick. Be patient. It may take a while to achieve a smooth, caramel-like texture (up to 5 minutes or more, depending on the power of your processor, the softness of your dates, and whether the stars are in alignment).

Assemble the Turtles!
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 24 pecan halves flat side down onto the paper, leaving some space in between.

2. Spoon or scoop a scant tablespoon of caramel on top of each pecan. A small spring-action scoop is a great tool for this step!

3. Place another pecan, flat side down, on top of each caramel and push down gently to flatten slightly. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool the "turtles." This will help your chocolate layer set more quickly.

4. Check the chocolate to ensure it is still melted (if not, place over a pot of warm water for a few minutes). Remove the baking sheet from the freezer. Drizzle a teaspoon or two of melted chocolate over each turtle, allowing the chocolate to drip down the sides to make the turtle legs. Immediately sprinkle a few flakes of Fleur de Sel onto the chocolate before it sets.

5. Cool completely. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container. Serve cold.

Yield: 2 dozen turtles. Turtles will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for about a week... but I doubt they'll last that long.

* Chocolate recipe makes about 3/4 cup; caramel recipe makes about one cup. You will have extra of both after making the turtles, you lucky thing! Store extras in the fridge.