Silence. Isn’t it beautiful? I can finally hear myself breathe. I no longer have to wake up at 3:45 in the morning to the ear-drum-piercing sound of my iPod. I no longer have to neglect my warm bed in exchange for a frigid twenty-minute walk to the train station. First semester has finally ended, and I am glad that I can oversleep without worrying that I might be late for class. An entire month to sweat over things that have nothing to do with school work – “If these cookies don’t come out the same size after they are done baking, I think I might have a stroke.”
So, to celebrate, I am not opening a cold bottle of ginger ale (although, now that I think about it, might not be a bad idea). Instead, I am giving you a cleaner-looking site and some delicious Walnut Pecan Clusters to munch on. I couldn’t help myself! Well, I could have, but I used the excuse of pregnancy to do all of this for you. Don’t ask.
After having my first pecan cluster three months ago, I immediately felt as if I was deprived as a child. How dare my parents keep me away from a chocolate-covered, chewy caramel bites laden with pieces of pecans. How dare they. You hear that mom and dad? How dare you not feed me tons of sugar and chocolate as a child!
My dear friends, if you were as deprived (in this respect) as a child, fear not- you can have some of my walnut pecan clusters, and then you can make some at home. Deal? These chocolate-dipped, chewy caramel bites are laden with pieces of toasted walnuts and pecans that will leave your eyes rolling back, as you take your first bite.
These are dangerously delicious and only require so much as your love, care, and a candy thermometer. So, get to candy making, and remember- sugar can get very hot, so be careful!
Walnut Pecan Clusters
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, December 2008 (page 226)
Makes About 24 Clusters
I prefer this recipe with Valrhona Manjari chocolate (which works especially well), but a 52- 54% Callebaut chocolate, or ghirardelli chocolate chips also work well. If you prefer to cover the clusters entirely in chocolate, be sure to melt 12 ounces of chocolate, instead of 6 ounces.
If you do not have a non-stick baking mat, no worries, used a piece of parchment paper sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (be sure not to use the cooking spray with flour).
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
¼ cup water
¾ cups granulated sugar
4 ½ ounces (1 heaping cup) walnut pieces / halves, toasted
4 ½ ounces (1 heaping cup) pecan pieces / halves, toasted
2 ½ ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces (¾ cup) bittersweet chocolate / semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
Bring 1 ½ cups sugar, the milk, and the salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir the mixture just until the sugar dissolves. Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat (the mixture may look separated).
Bring the water and ¾ cup of sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan** over medium-high heat. Wash the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming. Cook, undisturbed until the sugar begins to turn light gold, about 5 minutes. Swirl the pan, then cook until caramel turns amber, about two-minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat. Carefully stir in the milk mixture (liquid may bubble up, be careful!), the the walnuts and pecans. Place the pan over medium heat, and cook, stirring often, until the caramel registers between 242ºF (117ºC) and 248ºF on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes.
Remove pan from heat, and stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Continue stirring until the caramel cools and becomes very thick and some-what difficult to stir, about 10 minutes. Drop small mounds of caramel onto a baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat (read head notes), and let cool.
Place melted chocolate in a medium bowl. Using an offset spatula or a spoon, dip the bottom of each cluster into chocolate. Leaving the top partially un-dipped (read head notes). Place the dipped caramel clusters on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Once each of the clusters is dipped in the chocolate, use the remaining chocolate to drizzle over the top of the clusters.
Allow the clusters to stand until the chocolate is set.
** Please avoid using a pan with a non-stick coating, as it may be damaged by the high heat and the coating could leach into the caramel.
The clusters will keep, covered for up to five days.