Halloween approaches, and while I am, uncharacteristically, among those who will claim that the holiday lacks much of what made it special when I was a youth, I like to do what I can to make it memorable for the girls and for anyone else with whom I might be celebrating.
As it happens, my office has, for reasons that elude me, decided that tomorrow -- that would be the Friday four days before Halloween -- is a better time to celebrate Halloween than, say, October 31st. Anyway, it is rumored that there is to be intraoffice trick-or-treating tomorrow, so I decided to go a little bit overboard and make candied/caramel* apples for a few lucky ghosts and goblins. Even when I was a child, the days when you could give candied apples to neighborhood trick-or-treaters were rapidly coming to an end; nowadays, giving out food that isn't individually and commercially packaged has become unthinkable, but I reckon that no one at the office is going to suspect me of sneaking in razor blades or rat poison. There are about seventy people in my office, but it's hard for me to imagine that there will be more than a dozen who will actually eat a candied apple, so I'm going to pretend that that's how many I intended to make, even though there were still five apples sitting on my countertop with sticks stuck in them when the caramel ran out. Sixteen apples would probably have been tough to get rid of; as it is, I'll probably have to work hard to get rid of the eleven that I ended up with, but I'm not going to eat them myself, delectable creations though they be. I may, however, take a couple of the plain apples on sticks into the office and eat them to make it look as though I'm indulging. I'm devious that way.
When I gathered my ingredients this evening, I went in search of my candy thermometer, and I found, to my dismay, that it had broken. I considered not making the apples, but in the end I just went ahead without the thermometer. I tried dropping bits of the boiling sugar syrup into ice water, but I think that I started too late, so that what looked like the thread stage was more likely the soft crack stage. I'm pretty sure that I eventually got a hard crack, so I may have been around three hundred degrees, but I can't be sure. Ultimately, I left off worrying about temperature and went by sight and, more importantly, smell. Other candies may be more demanding in terms of exact temperatures, but the caramel for candied* apples is somewhat forgiving, provided that you don't actually cook it to black. It's really easier than it seems. When the caramel is nice and dark and has a delicious caramel smell, then it's ready for the final addition of cream and vanilla. Here are a couple of pictures:
This caramel is not ready:
This caramel is ready:
The traditional handle for a candied apple is a popsicle stick. I couldn't find any popsicle sticks at the supermarket where I got my apples and other supplies, but I did find packs of ten bamboo chopsticks at a very reasonable price. I'm pretty sure that I meant to buy two packs, but I somehow paid for and brought home only one pack, so when I was out of chopsticks, at one per apple, I went with bamboo skewers, at two per apple. Each worked perfectly well, and I find the chopsticks to be very amusing. I doubt that I will ever use anything else, though I'd prefer that they be a couple of inches shorter. Life is full of compromises.
Immediately after I've coated the apple with caramel, I like to roll it in something else. I had intended to use toasted coconut, miniature chocolate chips, and cashew pieces this evening, but my cashew pieces had mysteriously vanished, so I just went with the coconut and chocolate chips. You can use anything, though. (One supposes that you could also use nothing and stop with the caramel, but this is a situation where excess seems especially appropriate.) I've seen people use candy corn, and you could certainly use red hots or jimmies or sprinkles or dragees, if you wanted to be all fancy like. I like the idea of using more than one coating (but not on the same apple: that way lies madness), though since I don't think I've ever made candied apples before, I can't really act like I have any established practices. I may make another batch for the church bazaar, though, because L. has indicated that she would like to make some with me. This despite the fact that she currently has braces and wouldn't be able to eat them. I suppose the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Ahem.
I used Fuji apples, but any firm eating apple will do. Some day, I would like to try this with Honeycrisps, but that much goodness concentrated in one place is a little bit scary. You want to use a relatively small apple. Amazingly enough, a medium-large or large apple coated with thick caramel and then rolled in chocolate or coconut is more than some people want to eat. What a world.
Note that the recipe below requires a cup of heavy cream in total. Three-fourths of a cup goes in at the beginning, and the last quarter cup goes in at the end. The easiest and safest way to do this is to take a one-cup carton of heavy cream, measure out three-quarters of a cup for the start and add the vanilla extract to the quarter cup that's still in the carton. Then at the end, you can pour the cream and vanilla out of the carton in a thin stream and from a safe height so that if there's a lot of sputtering, you won't get burned.
10-12 small to medium, firm eating apples
3/4 c. heavy cream
3/8 c. light corn syrup
3/8 c. dark corn syrup
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 t. vanilla extract
Either line a sheet pan with foil and butter the foil, or put a Silpat on the sheet pan.
Wash and dry the apples. Remove the stems and push whatever you're using as handles into them far enough to hold them securely, but not so far that you push through the bottom of the apple. Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, combine the 3/4 c. heavy cream, the corn syrups, the butter, and the granulated sugar. Put the lid on, and cook over medium heat until the mixture is bubbling and all of the solids are dissolved. The steam generated should wash the sides of the pan down.
Remove the lid and let boil over medium heat. When the mixture is the color of a good dark caramel and smells like caramel, turn off the heat. From an appropriate distance, pour in the last of the heavy cream and the vanilla extract. Swirl the pan until the caramel is smooth. Put over low heat.
Working quickly, roll the apple in caramel so that all but the very top of it is coated. Hold over the pan and turn the apple, letting the excess caramel fall back into the pan. Roll the apple in whatever coating or coatings you like. Let the apples sit on your prepared sheet pan to harden.
*I would hazard to guess that candied apple purists insist that a candied apple is something that's coated with boiled sugar/corn syrup unadulterated by the addition of cream and vanilla and such. I'm using the terms "candied" and "caramel" interchangeably in this context, even though one is always an adjective, and the other is more properly a noun. I think that a "caramelized apple" would more appropriately be something that's smeared with butter, then rolled in sugar, then subjected to the tender mercies of a blowtorch, but as much fun as that sounds, I lack the necessary equipment. "Caramelized apples," by contrast would probably be what ends up on the top of your Tarte Tatin. In any case, why you would use plain boiled sugar when you could use caramel is a mystery to me.