Oct 12, 2012

Homemade Caramel Apples with Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Caramel

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First things first–congrats to the five randomly selected winners of last week’s giveaway! The winners have all been contacted by e-mail. Woohoo!

So it’s fall, y’all! I really do love this time of year, don’t you? I’m all up in the fall baking season already. I’ve stocked up on flour, butter, and sugar, washed all my aprons, and have more new cookbooks to flip through than I can even deal with (more on that in an upcoming post–there are some newly released gems out there!).

Along with getting to work through some brand-new-to-me recipes, I’m totally in the swing of book promotion stuff, and one of the best parts about that is getting to revisit recipes in my own dang book. Which is to say recipes that were worked and reworked and obsessed over like potential cancer-curing experiments, and then once deemed publish-able, were put away in the far, far reaches of my mind. With a bit of distance to calm my nerves about some of the more crazy-making recipes, I can now look at them like old friends with whom I share an embarrassing history. It’s like a college reunion, without all the Abercrombie sweaters.

Oh, hey, speaking of embarrassing personal history, very soon I get to head to my hometown of Chicago for a few events–where it’s even more fall-like than it is here in San Francisco–and I am just so pumped about the whole thing. One of the things I’ve got to get myself all groomed for is a TV appearance for which I’ve decided to demo some homemade caramel apples, just in time for Halloween. Crafty! This brainstorm came late last week, when I discovered that the Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Caramel recipe from my book is just as lovely as a coating for apples as it is set up firm in a little pan and cut into little squares for eating straight up. Hooray!

(I’ll tell you a little something about this caramel recipe–it worked me, people. There was a very specific texture/color/creaminess/level of salt that I was after for this particular caramel and I would not rest until the recipe was effortlessly foolproof and the caramels were deemed swoon-worthy by all. If only I could be so disciplined about my wardrobe choices.) (I am currently in the market for a new housecoat if you have any suggestions.)

Along with the need to become familiar with my old recipe demons once again, I also had the beginnings of roughly 100 million pounds of apples that I’m still trying to work through, the result of a glorious day trip to Apple Hill (about 45 minutes outside Sacramento). Last year, when we tried to go apple picking, we made the 2 1/2 hour drive only to arrive and find out that the growing conditions had been horrible and THERE WAS NO FRUIT TO BE FOUND OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME.

This, of course, was depressing on many levels–the farmers whose livelihood depends on apple picking season, for one, and the realization that we’d just hauled a very excitable, apple-loving three-year-old in the car two and half hours only to have to tell her there would be no apple picking. At one orchard, a farmer took pity on us and said we were welcome to roam the orchard anyway, and just take whatever we could find, if anything. Our bounty last year was four–FOUR!–apples, small and on the verge of bring wormy. Ahhh, memories. It was all very Griswold.

This year, however, was a completely different story. We visited just a couple places, and got all our picking done at one orchard in the span of a very enthusiastic 15 minutes. At this particular place, they had a special section of the orchard just for the littles and their road-weary parents who just wanted their kid to pick some dang apples and make the harrowing drive worth it. The trees in this section were freakishly perfect for kids, with really short trunks and branches super low to the ground, hanging heavy with fruit so beautifully formed, it was like The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland or something equally exciting and questionable. We seriously could have been blind and come away with hundreds of totally perfect apples. It was glorious! Even thought I still have, like, half a bushel to contend with weeks later. Caramel apples for (absolutely) everyone!

Homemade Caramel Apples with Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Caramel
Makes 12

Granny Smith apples are always great to balance with the sweetness of the caramel, but we picked loads of Golden and Red Delicious that were both on the tart side, and they were fabulous here.

An extra bold variety of vanilla, such as Indian, will cut through the richness of these creamy caramels. As for the salt, I’m a huge fan Maldon sea salt flakes for this recipe.

12 medium sweet-tart apples
12 popsicle sticks
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (see note)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons coarse, flaky sea salt  (see note)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
2 cups roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Set apples on a large tray. Insert 1 popsicle stick into the center of each apple, about three-quarters of the way down through the core. Chill the apples in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

To make the caramel, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cream and vanilla bean. Heat until the cream just begins to simmer around the edges—do not boil. Cover the pan and let steep for 15 minutes.

Remove the vanilla bean and scrape the caviar (vanilla seeds) into the cream, discarding the pod. Add the butter, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Clip a candy thermometer to the pot and reduce the heat to low, stirring occasionally, until the caramel reaches 242°F. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. Let the caramel cool for five minutes.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or waxed paper. Holding an apple by its stick, dip it into the caramel, swirling to coat (use a small spatula to help spread the caramel and remove any excess if necessary). Roll in chopped nuts and place back on the lined baking sheet to set.  Repeat with the rest of the apples. If not serving relatively soon, store the dipped apples covered in the refrigerator, letting them warm at room temperature for several minutes before serving (the caramel can slide off the fruit if left to stand too long at room temperature).

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