Happy Spooky Season!
Besides Thanksgiving, my family rarely celebrated the classic American holidays (at least not on the official day). It wasn’t because we didn’t want to, but because my parents were usually working extra long hours at their ice cream stores putting the finishing touches on large holiday orders. During Easter, my mom was busy frosting pink bunny-eared roll cakes. For Halloween, she’d pipe jack-o’-lanterns onto clown cones, and everything was iced in blue and white or red and green for Hanukkah and Christmas.
When Ham and I first got married, we made an effort to try and celebrate every holiday together, a tradition we instantly abandoned once we started working in restaurants. But we got one beautiful, unemployed holiday season together the first year we were together (back in 2008?), and we spent that Halloween partying hard by making some caramel apples. This year we’re together again (wild!) and once again getting crazy the only way we know how: by cooking some sugar until it’s dangerously brown and bubbly. If you want to rage like us, here are our caramel apple tips and tricks:
Yes, I know about the ice water test, when you dunk some caramel into ice water and squish it around with your fingers, hoping and praying it feels just right. I don’t make caramel enough to let my fingers be my guide, but a cheap, grocery store candy thermometer will always lead to perfect results. This is no place for a fancy digital thermometer, which often struggles to give you an accurate measurement when it comes to sugar. The other benefit of an old-school analog candy thermometer is that you can watch how quickly the temperature is rising, allowing you to adjust the heat if it’s looking like you might zoom past your desired final destination. It’s the best ten bucks I’ve ever spent.
Prep Your Apples
Apples are usually dipped in wax for preservation reasons. This wax can cause the caramel to slide right off the apple (sad face). Luckily, it’s super easy to remove. After piercing the apples with popsicle sticks, dowels, or sturdy branches you foraged for in the Hudson Valley (I don’t know what kind of life you lead), give them a quick dunk in boiling water. Pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel and the caramel coating can begin!
It's Molten Sugar Time!
What is crystallization?
Ever had your sugar syrup go from crystal clear to all lumpy and grainy? That’s crystallization, and it just takes one rogue sugar crystal to spoil the entire syrup. Maybe some syrup splashed up on the side of the pot, became dry from the heat and returned to its original crystal form, then fell back into the syrup. Or perhaps there was one itty bitty lump of sugar that didn’t dissolve. That one sugar crystal becomes a seed for all the sugar to crystalize, resulting in a grainy caramel.
How to prevent sugar doom:
Use a pan that’s high and tight. Wider pans have more places for crystallization to happen.
Know when to stir and when not to stir. I stir the sugar and water in the beginning with a fork. The fork forces me to make small, tight motions, preventing the syrup from splashing up on the walls of the pan, while also breaking up any clumps of sugar so everybody in the pool dissolves.
Once the sugar is mostly dissolved, stop stirring and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. The vapors from the water will condense on the lid, then run back down the sides, rinsing them clean.
Once your sugar syrup is brown and you’ve added the cream and butter, cook the caramel to 250°F for a caramel that’s stiff enough to hold tight to the apples, but still tender enough to bite into without taking out a tooth.
Have a bowl of ice water ready so you can dunk in the bottom of the pot to stop the caramel from overcooking. As you dip your apples, the caramel will cool and thicken, so you may need to gently rewarm it. I like to keep it classic and finish my apples with a dip in chopped salted peanuts, but get wild with sprinkles, M&M’s, or crushed cookies.
Other things that are making me feel festive:
If you can't resist a dog in costume, check out all the furry fashion from this years dog parade. I think it's the best pick-me-up.
In the latest episode of Ancient Recipes, we got in the spirit by making ancient druid soul cakes and a rye bread that could have caused the Salem witch trials.