Baked Sunday Mornings: Dipping in the lightest caramel

I made the Vanilla Bean Caramel Apples from the Baked Sunday Mornings recipe roster a little ahead of schedule. It was mid-October, and I was in full fall-enthusiasm mode. It had been many years since I had made caramel apples, and I was itching to get to it! And here’s one observation: amid all the pumpkin spice and gingerbread everywhere this time of year, caramel apple is another definitive flavor of fall.

Nothing is quite like the taste of a tart, juicy apple enveloped in sweet-salty, buttery-rich caramel. It makes me drool a little just thinking (writing) about it. And it is a flavor, too, that transports (via tastebud time machine) one directly back to days of youth, if you were lucky enough to get to make or enjoy caramel apples in autumn. In my own childhood, we unwrapped individual Kraft caramels from a big bag and melted them, and either used popsicle sticks or sharpened twigs (ah, the resources of growing up rural!) and plunged apples from the trees outside (yes, really!) into sweet, warm candy depths. Later, when the microwave came along (yes, I’m old), these things came out called “Wrapples” that were sheets of caramel you wrapped around apples, then heated in the microwave to seal the deal.

Now, they have caramel apple kits to provide all the necessary accoutrements, or, if you don’t want to bother, you can just purchase caramel or coated apples from any range of companies. BUT, making caramel from scratch (having done it for some other recipes) is not terribly difficult, so I was eager to dip apples in a homemade version of this golden glaze for the first time.

For their recipe for Vanilla Bean Caramel Apples, in “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking,” Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito say the key to great caramel apples is selecting the best apples (fresh, flavorful, crisp, tart and not terribly huge). I found some great apples in the markets this year and picked a range — gala, pink lady and fuji — for my array for dipping.

I was tempted to go old-school and purchase popsicle sticks (lacking available straight, sturdy twigs), but purchased some sharp, durable skewers to spear the apples.

One of the twists on this caramel recipe is enhancing the cream used with vanilla bean caviar. I stuck to my method of using my good old vanilla bean paste (of which I’ve become quite attached). Heating the cream to just shy of boiling.

To this heated cream, sugar, corn syrup and butter are added (I also added a wee bit of salt). Initially, the mixture is stirred to help dissolve the sugar, then, once the higher heating is begun, it’s a no-stir process of bubbling while keeping an eye on the candy thermometer to await the temperature landing to 245 degrees (note to self, candy season is approaching, time to invest in one of those shorter, clip-style candy thermometers).

The heated and completed caramel, a light golden-brown, is set in a bowl of ice to slow the cooking process; then, the fun begins. Each apple is plunged into the silky blonde depths of the caramel sauce, with minimal turning or re-dipping (recommended in the recipe), so the caramel maintains its proper smooth texture.

These are not the caramel apples of the melted candy variety where the apples are so thickly coated that they no longer look like apples — and that’s a good thing. The caramel lightly glazes each apple in a semi-sheer veneer of sweet, buttery goodness, leaving the beauty of the apple visible, but adding that rich butterscotch-y flavor we remember so well. One note about eating caramel apples as an adult (which I learned after a wrestle with one several years ago) — it’s perfectly acceptable, and completely enjoyable, to cut your caramel apple into wedges and eat it that way, too (lo, we are fearless of sticky faces when we are young)! I refrigerated mine and the chilled, tart-sweet apple, crisp and cold, coated with just enough vanilla-enhanced caramel, was the height of my fall “treating” over a few evenings.

Blogger’s Note: For the recipe for Vanilla Bean Caramel apples, visit Baked Sunday Mornings at http://bakedsundaymornings.com/2018/10/25/in-the-oven-vanilla-bean-caramel-apples/

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