The sweet & salty trend swept across the U.S some time ago but it’s still alive and well and I am perfectly okay with that obsession which I’ve fallen victim to. It seemed to have started with the illustrious sweet & salty brownie from Baked. And if you haven’t gotten on board with that brownie yet, get on it. It’s insane. Now there’s salted caramel everything and I’m surprised whenever I don’t see at least one dessert with bacon and caramel on a menu somewhere.
A few years ago during the holidays, I made these awesome smoked almond turtles—a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. With their crunchy texture and smokiness from the almonds, they (in my opinion) far surpass your standard turtle. Then, I was exposed to the “Slurtle,” an endearingly clever treat concocted by the darling Brooklyn candy-maker duo, Liddabit Sweets. I decided to come up with some fun, sweet and salty snacks to make and sell for my soon to be brother-in law’s Chapel Hill Bar, The Dead Mule Club. This is a new business endeavor so I decided to start off simple, by making some spicy cheese straws or “Mule Tails,” and hybrid of the smoked almond turtles and the slurtles, which I call “Drunken Turtles.” They’re the perfect accompaniment to a glass of bourbon or a foamy glass of porter or stout. They’re also perfect eaten entirely on their own, while you’re hunched over your kitchen counter, trying to just eat half of one and get other things done. *Disclaimer: It’s almost impossible to just eat half of one.
Similar to Giada’s recipe, I grease a muffin tin, but instead of putting the almonds at the bottom like she does, I pour about a half an inch of beer caramel into each one, then cover the caramel in chopped smoked almonds, cover the almonds with more caramel (so the bottom is smooth and covered). I then finish with a pool of melted bittersweet chocolate and top with a salted pretzel. I love the saltiness from both the almonds and the pretzel and the beer in the caramel provides a nice bitterness that offshoots the sweetness from the caramel and chocolate. I recommend using a stout or porter for the beer and my beer of choice for this is their People’s Porter (a Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter). And although it’s trickier to find, their seasonal Sexual Chocolate Stout would probably be even more amazing.
There’s also a great layering of crunchiness with the almonds at the bottom and the pretzel at the top. They’re very simple to make but do take some time. It’s really important to give the muffin tin a good thorough greasing so these suckers don’t require much prying to un-mold. The other crucial component is the caramel. Make sure you use a thermometer because if the caramel doesn’t reach 240 degrees (or very close to it), it won’t solidify or harden the way it needs to and it will become goopy. You also want to shake (not stir) the pan periodically to prevent the caramel from burning. This step takes a good 20 minutes or so but be patient and don’t leave the caramel unwatched!
makes 12 (in a standard muffin tin)
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 22 oz bottle of beer (use a Porter or Stout)
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 2 tsp beer syrup
- generous pinch of fleur de sel (or sea salt)
- 1 cup chopped smoked almonds
- 1 heaping cup bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghiradelli bittersweet chips)
- Salted Pretzels (bow shaped)
- Cooking spray & a candy thermometer
To make the Beer Syrup:
Reserve 1 cup of the beer (for the caramel) and set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the remaining amount of beer to a boil (stirring periodically). Cook until it has reduced to 2 tsp of a thick syrup. Set aside.
To make the Beer Caramel:
In a large saucepan, combine the heavy cream, butter, brown sugar and cup of beer. Place a candy thermometer in the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent burning. Keep a good eye on this especially early on, so it doesn’t boil over. Once the thermometer climbs up to 240 degrees, remove from heat. Stir in the beer syrup and the salt.
To assemble the turtles:
Pour about 1/2 inch of caramel into each vessel of the greased muffin tin. Cover with chopped smoked almonds. Cover with the remainder of the caramel. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Pour the chocolate over each of the turtles. Place a pretzel on top. Cool in the refrigerator for about an hour before you un-mold the turtles. To un-mold, take a sharp, small knife and run it alongside the turtle, to pull it away from the tin. Use the knife to gently coax the turtle out. These are best at room temperature but if you’re house is pretty warm, it’s best to store them in the refrigerator and take them out about 30 minutes before eating.