I was introduced to turtle candy at a young age. But born just outside of Chicago, it wasn’t just any turtle candy—it was Fannie May’s irresistible Pixies. They’re a pile of pecans drenched in a thick layer of gooey caramel and covered in silky smooth milk or dark chocolate. Despite the serious richness, I always gobbled them up.
But since moving to Wisconsin, the local brand’s Pixies have become infuriatingly out of reach. You might share my grief over one of these iconic treats from each state. Knowing I had to find a way to satisfy my cravings, I started digging into Taste of Home’s extensive recipe library. I was looking for a dessert that had all the flavor and richness of a Pixie, but was still pretty simple to throw together.
I found my answer with Neva Murry’s Gooey Caramel Chocolate Bars. Neva’s recipe relies on convenient ingredients like cake mix and store-bought caramels for an easier take on the classic flavor combo. Since it’s a bar recipe, it’s a great option for potlucks, just like these potluck desserts to feed a crowd.
Keep reading to see how the recipe comes together, plus some great tips from our Test Kitchen.
How to Make Turtle Bars with Cake Mix
- 2 ounces chocolate chips (We prefer 365 Everyday Value’s chips)
- 14 ounces caramels
- 2/3 cup evaporated milk, divided
- 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1 package chocolate cake mix
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- Caramel sauce and ice cream, optional
Yield: 2 dozen bars
- Heavy saucepan
- 13×9 baking pan
- Wire cooling rack
Step 1: Prepare the filling
First, preheat your oven to 350°F.
In a heavy saucepan over low heat, start to melt the caramels with 1/3 cup milk, stirring constantly. Depending on the brand of caramel you’re using, it might take a minute or two for the caramels to start softening and melt.
Once the caramel is almost completely melted, stir in the chocolate chips until they have also melted and mixed with the caramel. The mixture will be thick and sticky, but there shouldn’t be any lumps. Turn off the burner and gently fold in the chopped nuts.
Test Kitchen tip: To add some depth to your turtle bars, toast the nuts before folding them into the chocolate and caramel. If you’re not sure how toast nuts, take a look at our guide that will show you four easy ways.
Step 2: Prep the cake
In a bowl, mix the cake mix, melted butter and remaining ⅓ cup of milk until they’re completely combined. The mixture will be gritty and stick to itself like a dough. Check out which brand of chocolate cake mix topped our editors’ taste test.
Step 3: Bake first layer
Grease a 13×9 pan with either butter or shortening. Pay special attention to the corners. Next, split the cake mixture into two and spread half of it into the pan. Since the mixture is thick, it will be easier to place dollops of the mixture around the pan and spread them out than to place a big glob in the middle.
Place the pan in the preheated oven and allow the single layer to bake for about 7-10 minutes, or until the top has started to set.
Why bake the first layer separately? This step might seem redundant but, trust us, it’s worth it. Since the caramel filling is much heavier than the thin layer of cake mix, par-baking the first layer prevents the cakey layer from being pushed out of the way and burning the filling on the bottom of the pan. Plus, it makes spreading the caramel much easier.
Step 4: Finish assembling
Take the 13×9 out of the oven and spread the filling over the crust. The warmth of the pan and first layer will help make the filling easier to spread, but you’ll want to dollop it on like the first layer.
After the filling has been spread in an even layer, do the same with the remaining cake mix. Place the 13×9 back into the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the top layer has set.
Step 5: Cool and cut
Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to completely cool on a wire rack. Cut the bars to your desired size and serve with a hearty scoop of vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of caramel sauce!
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