Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just cream and milk and sugar. Her take is especially welcome at Thanksgiving, where any baker can contribute a treat that all in attendance can happily eat. If you’d like a plated dessert in addition to the candy below, check out Natalie’s Baked Apples!
Cashews and cranberries herald the holiday season in these luxurious goodies. A delicious twist on the traditional pecan-caramel-chocolate turtles, these candies make the perfect addition to the Thanksgiving dessert table. Wrap them up in a pretty cellophane bag and they make the perfect hostess gift. That is, if you can keep from eating them all yourself in one sitting! This recipe is actually two-in-one, so you’ll get about 18 turtles and a basketful of caramels as a bonus to streamline your holiday baking.
A candy thermometer (you can pick one up at the grocery store) will make this recipe easier, but if you don’t have one you can use the old-fashioned cold-water method as described below. Be sure to stir constantly, but not whisk, to prevent the mixture from scorching. Be careful and don’t try to taste the caramel: seriously, it will burn you immediately! If you want to wrap the finished caramels, cut plenty of waxed paper strips approximately 3-by-5 inches before you get started. Finally, feel free to add a few sprinkles of flaky sea salt to some of the turtles and caramels for a bit of extra flavor, particularly if you are using unsalted cashews.
10 ounces whole cashews, salted or unsalted
1/4 to 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon shortening
Extra butter for buttering pan
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. You will also want to generously butter a glass baking dish that is approximately 7-by-11 inches–for the leftover caramels. In a small bowl, mix the cashews and cranberries. Then place the mixture into small piles about 2 inches in diameter, with a few inches between each stack, on the parchment.
In a heavy, large saucepan, place the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, and whipping cream. Slowly melt together over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. When melted, place the candy thermometer in the mixture and stir constantly until it comes to 244 degrees F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, prepare several small bowls of very cold water. When you want to test it, starting at about 230 degrees or so, place a small dab of the caramel mixture in the cold water and use your hands to feel the texture. This is what the finished texture will be like, so you want it to come together and not be runny but still chewy and soft. You may need to check this every few degrees in a new bowl each time. When the caramel has reached the proper temperature/consistency, take it off the heat immediately and stir in the vanilla extract. Continue stirring rapidly until it becomes creamy and thickens. Let the caramel cool slightly, until it is thick enough to stay on top of the nut stacks but not too thick. Pour the caramel evenly over each of the nut stacks. Pour the leftover caramel into the buttered glass pan and let both cool to room temperature.
Melt the chocolate and shortening until smooth and completely melted in a heat-proof bowl over boiling water. Pour over each of the nut stacks and smooth with the back of a spoon. Let set completely.
For the caramels, cut the soft but cool caramel into strips and small pieces using a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Wrap in waxed paper.