Fall Favorites: Caramel, Quasimodo, & Everything In Between
Coming Soon: The most delicious (and healthy!) chocolate chip pumpkin bread you’ve ever tasted.
It’s that time of year again.
When I climb into my car in the morning to drive to school, the muscles in my back go rigid from the cold. The steering wheel is a frosty plastic rod underneath my chapped knuckles, and as my backpack hits the back seat when I toss it in for the ride, the leather practically crackles with chilliness. I spend the whole ride to school hunched over in Quasimodo position, with my shoulders above my ears and my face scrunched into a grimace.
Then the heat starts working, and as my appendages thaw, my head unfolds from its bent position and I am able to actually observe the world around me. Granted, the ride to school doesn’t take long–maybe ten minutes, at the most–but what I see is the changing of the seasons, and it reminds me of why its worth it to “suffer” the darkness and chill of an impending winter. The leaves are gone, now, and on some porches, carved jack-o-lanterns make the best of their expiring grins, which grow droopier and more rancid with each passing day of November. Piles of leaves, still slick with moisture from melting snow, are heaped in small mounds in the middle of yards. It is that time, those few antsy weeks, between the gleeful holiday of Halloween and the warmth of Thanksgiving, which marks the official and long-awaited beginning of the Season of Eating.
I have to say– I’m not sure I’ve ever actually felt like hibernating during the winter months, but this year, with my life so filled, my sleep schedule is suffering dearly. I’d love nothing better than to eat for a day or two nonstop and then curl up for a nap and not get up for a week. It should be noted, however, that one doesn’t have to hibernate to have a good excuse to eat yummy food. Chilly weather (or at least quintessentially chilly months) are the perfect reason to whip up a few easy, delicious dishes. November, December, and January are notorious for the heightened stress levels they cause, as hosts and hostesses the world over find themselves forced with the prospect of feeding–and pleasing–extra hungry mouths in a season that brings with it added entertaining and family visits. But fear not, dear readers! I am here to tell you that it is super simple to whip up delicious, crowd pleasing, healthy food without worrying too much about convenience. If I can do it without setting the house on fire (or something similar), you certainly can too!
I know that Halloween is over, but caramel apples are one of those things that serve well for every season. This particular recipe is surprisingly simple, and the results are decadent and delicious. Though the caramel hardly qualifies as a “healthy” meal, these tasty treats can be a great way to get people to sink their teeth into an apple or two, minus the whining that may come if it wasn’t otherwise dipped in creamy caramel. Try slicing these up and putting them in your kiddo’s lunchbox for a tasty “healthy dessert” two-in-one, or bring a tray of smaller dipped apples to work as break-time treats that will keep that annoying coworker quiet for a while. (Just kidding!) There’s always eating them for yourself, as well; when a group of friends and I made these on Halloween night, we ate them while the caramel was still gooey and warm. I devoured two before the last of the apples had even been dipped!
Crowd-Pleasing Caramel Apples
Makes about 12 medium apples
- 1 1-pound box dark brown sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 2/3 cup dark corn syrup
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon robust-flavored (dark) molasses
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 12 sturdy lollipop sticks or chopsticks (we used thinner shishkebab sticks, for lack of a better alternative–they’re also aesthetically pleasing!)
- 12 medium apples (go with Granny Smiths if you want the classic caramel sweet-tart taste, but any apples work just as well)
Assorted toppings (chopped nuts, chopped dried fruits, mini M&M’s, sprinkles, crushed Oreo cookies, coconut shavings, chocolate chips..the list is endless!)
- one accurate candy thermometer (I found one at the local grocer for under $5 dollars, and they’re useful to have around for other recipes)
1. Combine sugar, butter, condensed milk, corn syrup, maple syrup, vanilla, molasses and salt in a 2 1/2 or 3 quart saucepan (with a thick bottom, if possible). Stir with a wooden spoon on medium-low heat until all the sugar dissolves. Test the readiness by rubbing a little of the caramel mixture between two fingers– if there is grittiness, that means that there are still sugar crystals and it needs to be further dissolved. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush or a small spatula to dissolve any sugar crystals that might form on the pan sides.
2. Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to the pan and cook the caramel at a rolling boil until the thermometer reaches 236°F, stirring constantly and slowly with a wooden spoon. Continue to occasionally brush the sides down with a pastry brush or spatula. Carefully pour caramel into a metal bowl, and cool the mixture in the open air until the temperature lowers to 200°F, at which point you are ready to dip the apples. (Hooray! Now the fun begins.)
3. While the caramel is cooling, prepare a large baking sheet, covering it with buttered/greased aluminum foil. Insert a stick into each apple, about 2-inches, into the apple core.
4. When the caramel has cooled enough for dipping, dip the apples in by holding on to the stick. There’s really no proper technique, though technically I suppose you can go lower the apples straight down and lift them back out again. Submerge the apples in the caramel until their tops have almost been covered, then pull the apple up from the caramel and let the excess caramel drip off from the bottom back into the pan. Place on the foil. The caramel will pool a little at the bottom of each apple, so don’t worry–that’s normal. Place into the refrigerator to chill for at least 15 minutes, or eat right away, armed with plenty of napkins nearby and a sympathetic friend on hand to take pictures of your sugar-encrusted face.
5. Once the caramel has chilled a bit, remove from the refrigerator and use your fingers to press the caramel that has dripped to the bottom of the apples, back on to the apples. (You can do this by simply folding the pooled caramel upward and pressing it back into the caramel on the apple’s sides.) Then take whatever coatings you want and press them into the apples for decoration. Return to the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.