Turtles and I go way back. As a little girl, they were my ultimate treat—in my opinion, their milky chocolate, sweet and gooey caramel, and crunchy pecans formed the perfect combination. My dad used to give my sister and me a box on special occasions, and I'd try to make last for as long as possible. As you probably guessed, it never worked: I ate the gooey treats almost as soon as I got them. Plus, I'm sure my mom used to sneak in and eat a few when we weren't looking—but can you blame her?
Unlike my mom, I lost most of my childhood sweet tooth as an adult. I'm no longer the voracious candy consumer I once was, and when I do have it, I opt for more bittersweet flavors and natural sugars. These homemade turtles are grown-up versions of the treats I coveted as a kid, with dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate and dates in place of sugar—but they're just as good. The gooey, naturally sweet medjool date caramel is good enough to eat with a spoon, and flaky fleur de sel tops things off for a salty-sweet finish.
The turtles come together with minimal effort and just a bit of wait time while they set in the fridge. They make a great gift for special occasions or a sweet after-dinner treat for anyone who loves turtles—and who doesn't? The recipe below makes 15 two-bite-sized chocolates—and they're vegan to boot! And, to be completely honest, I totally hid a few from my husband to savor on my own—I guess my mom and I aren't so different after all!
10 large medjool dates, pitted 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup 1 pinch sea salt 2 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted, divided 1/4 cup water, or as needed, divided 250 grams good quality dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher), roughly chopped 3/4 cup raw pecans, roughly chopped 1 teaspoon fleur de sel or Maldon salt, to finish
Start by making the medjool date caramel: Place the dates in the bowl of a food processor or small blender. Add the maple syrup and salt, then start blending. With the motor running, add in 1 1/2 tablespoons of the coconut oil and the water as needed to make the mixture smooth. Mix until smooth and well combined, then set the mixture aside.
In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil. Stir it often to prevent the chocolate from burning. While the chocolate is melting, line a cutting board or baking sheet with parchment paper. (To make your life easier, make sure the board fits into your fridge, as that's where it will be going.)
Pour out 15 evenly spaced, 1/2-teaspoon dollops of chocolate onto the parchment, then spread each out gently with the back of a spoon. Return the remaining melted chocolate to the double boiler before it resolidifies.
To prepare the turtle, arrange the pecans in even clusters on top of each dollop of chocolate, overlapping the nuts to form a solid, gap-free base for the date caramel. Scoop out about 1 teaspoon of the date mixture and place it carefully on top of the clustered pecans. Repeat for each turtle, then evenly distribute any remaining date mixture.
To even out the top of the date mixture, dip your fingertips in hot water, then gently smooth out the caramel while at the same time spreading it evenly over the pecans.
Use the remaining melted chocolate to top each turtle with a chocolate shell. (You should have just enough chocolate to give each one a good coating.) As you do so, rotate the sheet to make sure each turtle has been completely covered with chocolate and no date mixture is showing. Top each turtle with a sprinkle of the finishing salt.
Place the turtles in the refrigerator to set for at least an hour before serving. Once cool, gently peel each turtle off the parchment and serve, or place in a container for a treat later. (Hide from husbands and mothers alike!)