First impressions are important. Your prospective employer. Your dean of admissions. Your future in-laws. You either make it or break it with that initial meeting, and pretty much nothing you do after will change their minds about you. If anything, the future only worsens how they perceive you. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean; tough luck, don’t you agree?
Personally, I have this innate need to be ‘approved’ or affirmed by those around me. No, don’t flatter me. No, don’t spoon feed me compliments. I just need to know that I have someone’s approval – either a friend, a parent, a professor, a co-worker, etc. This past weekend, I felt that strong urge – and though there was no pressure to impress or even a remote expectation, I felt the need to win over a group of someoneiknow’s friends. I wanted them to know that I was worthy, that I was good enough, that I was everything they had expected and more. And what better way to impress than to showcase my efforts, my time, my passion?
Hello. Nice to meet you. I made you caramel apples. I hope you like them.
This was my first attempt at making caramel apples, but I am soo pleased with the results! They are fairly simple to make, and your taste buds will forever be spoiled and pampered as they will never settle for anything less than homemade caramel apples. What a world of difference. And because you actually make your own caramel, there is a complexity in flavor that you will never get from just melting caramel candies. The condensed milk has an intense sweetness that pairs soo well with that combination of melted sweet cream butter, golden brown sugar, dark maple syrup, and a hint (just enough to make you whet) of sugarcane molasses (‘That’s Molasses to you, biatch,’ as my manager Aaron would say). Kari and Carina loved the caramel so much, they ate it by the spoonful – warm and straight off the stove. What’s worse, they even scraped the caramel drippings on my baking sheet and ate that too. It’s THAT good.
Also, you can get soo creative with Caramel Apples. Decorate and coat to your heart’s desire! Crushed nuts, white/milk/semi/dark chocolate, toffee bits, cocoa nib, praline, brittle, shredded coconut, dried fruit (craisins!), mini m&ms, crushed candy bits, marshmallows, graham crackers – do you see how the possibilities are just endless??? Caramel Apples are a fall favorite – a definite compliment-winner that is sure to make amazing first impressions.
This recipe coats 15 medium Granny Smith apples, with left over caramel to snack on. A candy thermometer is a must if you want the caramel to solidify. If not, you can cook the caramel until crystals have dissolved and liquified, then fondue it – great for parties and large crowds. Alternatively, you do not have to use all the caramel at once. It can be tightly plastic-wrapped and placed in the fridge for a week. Simply reheat in a double boiler until you have a liquid consistency, and you are ready to dip. Don’t waste your time looking for special sticks to spear your apples – run down to your favorite Chinese take-out and steal a bunch of chopsticks because they are sturdier than any of the other options out there. Freeze your cookie sheets before you dip the apples and clear some space in the fridge!! The former will help set the caramel faster, and the latter is just strategic. After dipping, the caramel will inevitably pool at the bottom of the apples as it sets in the fridge. There are several options here. (1) If you don’t mind wasting a bit of the caramel, then pull your dipped caramel apples straight upward when you remove from the baking sheet, or else you are going to get these ugly caramel strands. (2) Immediately after dipping in hot caramel, sit the caramel apple bottom in a bowl of chopped nuts. Then place on a baking sheet, and fridge. Why? When the caramel does begin to pool and slide off the apple, the nuts will slow that process. AND because the caramel is pliable, you can simply push/press the nut/caramel mass right back onto the apple. No big deal. Further hints/tips are noted in [brackets] below.
Sticky Sweet Caramel Apples
source: Epicurious, Bon Appétit (Oct 1999)
clip-on candy thermometer
1 1-pound box brown sugar [light is fine; about 2.25 cups]
16 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup pure maple syrup [any grade, I like the dark stuff]
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp robust-flavored (dark) molasses [mild is great]
1/4 tsp salt
15 medium Granny Smith apples [any tart variety]
Melted dark, milk and/or white chocolates
Melt first 8 ingredients in a large saucepan or pot. Stir with large wooden spoon over medium-low heat until the crystals disappear. Occasionally, brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush. [15-20 minutes]
Increase heat to medium-high. Attach clip-on candy thermometer. Boil caramel until temperature reads 236°F, consistently stirring and continuing to brush down the sides of the pot with your wet pastry brush [12 minutes]. At 236-240°F, remove from heat and pour caramel into metal bowl (do not scrape pan). Submerge thermometer bulb in caramel and cool without stirring to 200°F [about 30 minutes].
While caramel cools, line 2 baking sheets with buttered foil or parchment. Push 1 chopstick into stem end of each apple. Roll each apple in boiling hot water for 1 minute. This will remove the wax and help the caramel adhere to the apple surface. Wipe dry.
Dip one apple straight down into the caramel, submurging all but the top crown. Pull straight out and allow for the excess to drip. Some sources say to turn the apple on its side, rotate it in mid-air to even out the caramel and help it set. Do a test trial and see for yourself. Place down on a baking sheet. Repeat for all apples, spacing them about 1-2″ apart. Place baking sheet in fridge for about 20 minutes, or until the apples partially set (no more dripping, still pliable).
In the meantime, start chopping the nuts, breaking the brittle, melting your chocolate and setting up your decoration station. Remove your apple baking sheet from the fridge, and pulling directly upward, remove an apple. You can press the pooled caramel back onto the apple or chose not to. You can now press your decorations onto the apple or drizzle on melted chocolate, or even submerge in melted chocolate. Your choice entirely. Just make sure that the decoration SETS before adding the next decoration. I personally rolled my apples in crushed almonds before drizzling melted dark and white chocolate over the apples. They turned out beautifully.
The holiday season is fast approaching, and I know that means a lot of first meetings with important people – long lost family members, new friends, friends of friends. So proceed with caution food friends. My best advice? Though it’s border-line cliché, I say, be yourself. It will put you at ease, and hopefully lessen your apprehension and your chances of committing a foible. And of course, a tray full of meticulously decorated Caramel Apples doesn’t hurt either.
Until soon friends!