Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Apple Cider Caramels

Remember the apple cider I talked about here and here?  The stuff I got from Trader Joe's.  Well, I'm still finding uses for it. I really loved the apple cider pancakes, but these caramels are so unique and wonderfully delicious. 

I'm a sucker for holiday treats, mostly caramels and fudge (ok, throw cookies in there too). I grew up eating these caramels my mother made every Christmas.  She would keep a tupperware container on the dining room table of  fudge, caramel and sugar cookies to make neighbor plates with.  Every time I walked by I couldn't help but snitch a piece or two.  So, you see, I have a soft spot for caramels.

Make sure when making these caramels that you get real apple cider, like the kind you can find at a local orchard, farm or produce stand.  Occasionally you can find decent apple cider at the store, but you have to search for it.  Although it's a little more expensive than regular apple juice, it's worth every penny!  Don't skip the sea salt either.  It's an unexpected little crunch in every bite that's a little explosion of salty to go with your sweet.

Apple Cider Caramels
4 cups apple cider
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. flaky sea salt
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream

Boil the apple cider in a 3 or 4-quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume; somewhere around 30-40 minutes or so. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, prep the rest.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.  Set aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.

Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it.
(Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball. I actually use this method in addition to my candy thermometer, just to make sure it's the right firmness.  Altitude will affect thermometers, so it's good to know your thermometer, have a back up and even calibrate your thermometer to where you live.)

Immediately remove caramel from heat and stir down the bubbles a bit. Add the cinnamon and salt mixture, and stir to combine. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares.  Individually wrap, if desired. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.

SOURCE: Smitten Kitchen

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