Monday, October 31, 2011

Caramel Apples

One Halloween, while trick-or-treating with friends, I found myself at the doorstep of one of those "questionable" houses, meaning it was unclear if anyone was home or not. The front porch light was on, but the path to the door was dark and there were no decorations or pumpkins to be found. My friends and I rang the bell, and were surprised when a little old lady wearing a babushka came to the door. She didn't say much, just presented us each with homemade caramel apples wrapped neatly in plastic and tied with a bow. She wished us on our merry way, but as we left her house we stopped and froze. Though these were probably the tastiest caramel apples on the planet, we quickly convinced ourselves the old woman must be a witch! We spun tales of her sliding razor blades into the seemingly innocent apples, or dipping them into a poisonous brew. So, fighting every possible urge to eat them, we felt it our duty to toss the apples in the trash and carry on in pursuit of more brand-named, mass-produced candy.

To this day, I'm still convinced that those must have been the most incredible caramel apples ever. I can see her in her kitchen now, using her grandmother's caramel recipe and apples off her own tree. What a shame to have thrown them away! Of course, it's important to be cautious when it comes to kids and homemade candy given out by strangers, but how many little old ladies do you know who keep poison and razor blades in their pantry? Witch or no witch, I've made these caramel apples to pay homage to that babushka-wearing old lady and her fallen caramel apples. Hopefully this recipe comes close. Happy Halloween!

Caramel recipe adapted from Ina Garten, Food Network Magazine 

Vegetable oil
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
8 crisp, tart apples (such as Granny Smith or Braeburn), stems removed 
1 cup salted peanuts (or other nut of your choosing), chopped
1 cup multicolored sprinkles (or other garnish of your choosing) 
8 wooden skewers or chopsticks (the to-go kind) 

Begin by bringing a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add the apples two at a time and boil for 10 to 20 seconds. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon and wipe clean with a paper towel or clean cloth to remove any wax or dirt. Place in an ice bath to cool. Wipe dry, insert wooden skewers or chopsticks into the stem-end of the apples, and place in the refrigerator to keep cold. Repeat with remaining apples (this step can be done a day in advance). 

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, lightly brush with vegetable oil and place in the refrigerator. Place your chopped nuts, or other toppings, on plates and set aside.  

In a deep sauce pan (about 6 inches wide and 4½ inches deep), combine ¼ cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown, about 15 minutes. Do not stir the sugar mixture- just swirl the pan if need be.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, bring the cream, butter, and salt to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture has reached the desired color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful, as this will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla using a wooden spoon and place a candy thermometer in the caramel. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) then immediately remove from heat. 

Let the bubbling subside and begin twirling your apples in the caramel (you may need to tilt the pot to fully coat the apples). Allow the excess caramel to drip off before dipping in the desired toppings (chopped nuts, sprinkles etc.) and immediately transferring to the prepared pan in the refrigerator to set. Repeat with the remaining apples. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Yield: 8 caramel apples

  • Do not substitute waxed paper for parchment, as the caramel will melt the wax and stick to the paper.
  • Most apples are coated in a food grade wax, so you'll want to boil them prior to dipping in the caramel, otherwise the caramel might not stick to the apples. Also, the caramel will better adhere to the apples if you keep them cold in the refrigerator until ready to be dipped. 

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