Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Apple Cider Caramels

Since it's officially fall and true chilly fall weather has arrived, it is only perfect that the apple recipes start coming in full force. Fall is my favorite season - it's chilly, but not too cold and it's time to pull out the boots, scarves and sweaters from the closet. I love how the trees change color. I love how nice it is to curl up with a big bowl of soup and a big snugly blanket. Best of all, I love those cool rainy days that make you just want to snuggle in bed all day. Doesn't that sound nice? I think so. 

Speaking of snuggling, you might just want to snuggle up to a big bowl of these apple cider caramels. They are appley, cinnamony and so so so good. It's like eating liquid apple pie. No joke. Keeping with the theme of fall and apple goodness, in comes Apple Hill. If you are in the Sacramento area, you have got to go. There are tons of orchards, tree farms, wineries and even a brewery too. You can pick your own fruit, or do like Ryan and I do and go wine and pie tasting. Best combination ever, right? Heck yes! Each place makes their own pie and it's really fun to taste them all and pick out the subtle differences. A couple of weeks ago we took our friends Matt and Lauren up there for their first time, and we had a ton of fun. I love me a good piece of apple pie, but I must say, the apple strudel we had at the first place (my favorite - Boa Vista Orchards), was pretty darn good. 

Wow, I really get off topic quick don't I? I could talk about apples and fall all day, but let's get to caramels. I've never made caramel before in my life, and I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous. I shouldn't have been though. Caramel is not hard to make, you just have to be patient to let the boiling sugar lava come up to temperature. You all know that I am not very patient when it comes to these things, but I am slowly learning.  If you are scared about making homemade caramels, don't be. It was way easier than I thought and the most important thing to have is a candy thermometer. I picked one up at a local store for under $5, so don't go spending your whole paycheck on one. That and you want to use good apple cider. Not apple juice. Apple cider. You can of course get this up at Apple Hill, but you can also use anything you find in your local grocery store. I used Simply Apple (they also make lemonade and orange juice), but I have seen cider at Trader Joes. I'm sure with the fall season in full force, that cider should be easy to find.

Ready to make caramels? Let's do this! Once you make these, you will want to make them for everyone. They are like little bites of fall in your mouth. 


apple cider reduction. make this about an hour before you want to start. it will need to cool before you can start making caramels!

here is the candy thermometer I bought.

apple cider spices added to the cream

prepare your pan before you start so you can pour in the caramel right away.

boil - round one. cream, water, sugar and corn syrup
add that butter

add the cider and the rest of the cream and bring up to temperature.

getting impatient - almost to temperature!!

caramel ready to cool - this take a couple of hours.

I got too excited after making these and forgot to show you how I wrapped them up. All you will need is wax paper and then wrap them up like a tootsie roll. I packaged mine in a chinese take out box (one I got from Michaels craft store, not a used box) and put a bow on them. Not only are these perfect to have as a treat, but they are perfect to give away as a little hello. Plus, saying that you made caramels -  Hello, winner!
Apple Cider Caramels (from ourbestbites.com)

2 c. high-quality apple cider (like Simply Apple)
1 c. heavy cream or whipping cream, divided
1 tsp. ground cinnamon*
Pinch nutmeg*
1/4 tsp. allspice*
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. light corn syrup
1 stick (1/2 c.) real butter, cubed
*If you’d rather, you can use 1 tsp. apple pie or pumpkin pie spice + 1/2 tsp. cinnamon instead of the full teaspoon of cinnamon plus the nutmeg and allspice.

Pour cider into a medium saucepan and boil on high for about 20 minutes or until the cider is reduced to 1/3 c. (keep a glass or silicone measuring cup handy so you can pour it out and back in again if you need to). Set aside to cool.

Line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper, making sure to leave about 1″ hanging over the edges for easy removal. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. In a small bowl, combine 2/3 c. cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and reduced apple cider. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, 1/3 c. whipping cream + enough water to reach the 1/2 c. line on the measuring cup, and corn syrup. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Insert the candy thermometer and simmer until the syrup reaches 234 degrees.

Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream mixture. Add the cubed butter and stir until the cream and butter are fully incorporated. Return the pan to heat and re-insert the candy thermometer. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 248 degrees.

Remove from heat and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Let the mixture cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Cut the caramels into 1/2″ squares and wrap each caramel in wax paper. Store in an airtight container or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
 One word of advice for making these - do not be in a rush. It does take time to reduce the cider, make the caramels and let them cool. All in all, the whole process takes a good 3 hours at least (depending on how fast the caramels cool). Also, the first time I made these, I didn't think they needed to be kept in the fridge, but I think they are best kept in the fridge. If you don't they will get all squishy and hard to eat (Sorry Bea & Chris!).

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