Friday, November 12, 2010

Glorious Caramel Apples


Today's  delicious blog brought to you by: Alisa



Things you will need:
6 to 8 apples (depending on size)
Wooden sticks or skewers
Chocolate and/or Vanilla chips
Chopped nuts (peanuts, pecans, macadamia, etc)
Cinnamon Sugar (optional, but YUM)
1 14oz bag of wrapped caramels
2 TBSP Water
1/2 TSP Vanilla Extract
or
1 recipe of caramel, as follows


First things first: prep the apples. You want to use apples that aren't super sweet, so that you have a bit of a contrast with the sweet coating. If you aren't using organic apples (here, they are worth the extra expense since you'll be eating the skin of the apple), you need to scrub any wax that might be on them, pierce them with whatever you plan to use for the stick (lollipop sticks, wooden skewers, or wooden popsicle sticks), and chill the apples for at least an hour. This helps to keep your caramel from sliding off and puddling around your apple. I put mine on a foil-lined baking sheet that will fit in my fridge. That way, they can go straight into the fridge as soon as the last one is coated without having to find space for the sheet afterward.

Second things second: you need caramel. The easiest thing to do is to buy the little caramel squares in the 14 oz bag. I am not ashamed to say that this is the method I use most. I've made my own caramel (and other candies that need to be boiled to a particular temperature), and let me assure you, the difference isn't worth the humidity pit that is created by boiling your own caramel and then keeping it pliable over a double boiler pot. Sucks all the fun out of it. Besides, it's work enough with the pre-made caramels. Bottom line: spare yourself the agony and move on more quickly to the ecstasy.

With the 14 oz bag of caramels, you simply unwrap them, place them in a medium-size saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Melt on a medium heat. Once they are almost completely melted, turn your heat down as low as it will go. You just want to keep the caramel soft and workable. Stir in a 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract.

Ingredients to Make Your Own Caramel
Makes enough caramel to coat 6-8 apples.
  1. Brown sugar (1 and 1/2 cups)
  2. Butter (1 and 1/2 tbsp)
  3. Milk or cream (6 tbsp)
  4. Vanilla extract (1/2 teaspoon)
Making Your Own Caramel
  1. Set your pastry brush in a cup of warm water.
  2. Add the ingredients listed above, except the vanilla extract, to a saucepan.
  3. Cook over medium-high heat.
  4. While the candy cooks, boil water in the second pot for your double boiler.
  5. Stir the caramel until the mixture reaches 236 degrees Fahrenheit, brushing the pot's sides with a wet pastry brush as necessary (to prevent crystals from forming).
  6. When it's at the right temperature, place the pot with the caramel in the waiting double boiler.
    • Take the double boiler (bain marie) away from any heat source at this point, if you haven't already.
  7. Stir in vanilla.
 At this point, remove your apples from the fridge and from the foil-lined pan, and lightly spray the foil with cooking spray. No one wants to peel foil off the bottom of their apple. Been there, saving you from that.

Now that you have your chilled apples and your melted caramel, you want to tip your saucepan slightly to bring the caramel to one side and have it deep enough to dip the apples. Spinning as you go, turn the apples quickly in the caramel. Take too long & you will have too much caramel. Allow the excess to run off, and then scrape the bottom along the edge of the pan so that the excess isn't wasted. When placing the apples on your pan or sheet, be sure to space them so that they are not touching after they've been coated. The caramel sticks like glue once you chill the apples, and, trust me, it's not fun trying to pull glued apples apart. If you plan to make caramel apples that are covered in chopped nuts, now is the time to add them by dipping your apple into the nuts, being careful not to touch the sides of the bowl.  After all apples are coated, return the apples to the fridge for about 20 minutes to let the caramel firm up.

Now, you are only limited by your imagination. I've seen caramel apples dipped in chopped candy bars or crushed sandwich cookies, but..... really? I think that's a waste of an apple and a reckless number of calories. Eat a candy bar or some cookies if that's what you'd really rather have. Don't pretend it's healthy because there's an apple somewhere underneath it all.

That said, you can melt some semi-sweet or milk chocolate or vanilla chips in the microwave* and drizzle them over and around the caramel. I like to have both a chocolate and vanilla on them because it's more visually appealing, but that's just me. I also like the drizzled chocolate method because I still get the flavor without coating every inch of the caramel with caloric overload. Tastes great, yes, but then there's that guilt factor afterward. Not worth it, people. Either way, drizzling or dipping, you can now dip them into a bowl of finely chopped nuts (salty peanuts are a great contrast) if you want. My favorite apple turned out to be one that was drizzled with melted vanilla chips, dipped in pecans, and lightly showered with cinnamon sugar. (Yes, yes, I know.... calories be damned!) Notice that it is not among the apples in the photograph. Loooong gone. 
<gasp!> I just had a culinary epiphany while daydreaming about all the ways these apples can be accented. Melted peanut butter chips! I think I would still go out of my way to add salty chopped peanuts (because that's how I had my first caramel peanut apple in Helen, Georgia - fell in love with the confluence of flavors right on the spot), but melted chips could be a wonderful thing here.


For a festive holiday look, you can tint the vanilla chips with red or green for Christmas, orange or yellow for Thanksgiving, pink or blue or green for Easter (you get the drift), and sprinkle the apples with matching colored sprinkles or seasonal-colored m&m's.

Place the finished apples on your greased foil, pop them back into the fridge to firm up and... Violets! Err..... Voil√°!! Glorious caramel apples!

Keep apples refrigerated, and take out about 20 minutes before eating so that the caramel doesn't remove your dental fillings. These would make great, inexpensive gifts for your co-workers and your children's teachers.

One last note, try all sorts of apples, and don't be afraid to experiment with the likes of pears. Bosch, D'Anjou, Barlett, and even the apple-looking cousin, the Asian pear. Pears are so mildly flavored that they lend themselves well to this kind of sugary embellishment.
 
*For melting chips, place about a 1/2 cup of chips in a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 25 second intervals, stirring after each time. Takes maybe 3 times to reach the right melted stage. Better to stir the warm chips and allow them to melt slowly than to burn your chips by overheating them. Once your chips have melted, spoon them into a plastic sandwich bag, snip off a teensy tiny corner, and go to town drizzling the melted goodness all over your apples. 

~AJ

4 comments:

  1. Kim posted: oh my Alisa...i never thought to use Pears! i also didn't know to put a little water in the pan before melting the caramel? I have used granny smith green apples, the tart crisp apple goes well with the sweet, creamy caramel. and Vanilla chips? ok martha stewart. you are so amazing! now if you don't mind, i have some reheated sweet potato fries to scarf down.

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  2. AJ posted: I happened on the idea of pears because my son prefers pears to apples. Really, there isn't a whole lot of difference in them, so why not?
    My all-time favorite is a tart Granny Smith apple with caramel and chopped salty peanuts. Might have to try that again and replace the chopped peanuts with the melted peanut butter chips.
    And hey, I would never be so spoiled as to turn up my nose at reheated sweet potato fries. Call them haute Belgian fries and everyone will envy your cooking prowess. : )

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  3. Kim posted: "haute belgian fries" is WHAT I MEANT anyway!

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  4. Ok, I'm officially OFF my diet!! That pear looks really YUMMY! Of course, anything dipped in chocolate is YUM!

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