Our love letter to autumn and its apples and its apple cider continues….with caramels. Apple cider caramels. The essence of fall, distilled into one, perfect, burnt-leaf-colored square.
This recipe needs no introduction. It’s just perfect. No corn syrup! And a manageable yield! Surprisingly easy to make!
And really, it’s genius. Reducing the apple cider to its essence is inspired: the scent of apples lingers in kitchen corners long after the caramels have been wrapped and stored, and you half expect Willy Wonka to whirl past as you unwrap one, muttering about three course meals and chewing gum, they’re that apple-y.
The only adjustment we do make when whipping these up is the temperature to which we let them climb. Smitten Kitchen’s original recipe calls for boiling ’till you reach 252F, just over the hard ball stage. We usually push ours just two degrees shy of that, to 250F, which is on the cusp of soft and hard. We like a pliable caramel, one that melts slowly on your tongue, if you’re patient enough to let it. This does mean our caramels are a bit soft at room temperature, but we prefer them this way. They’re not around for long, anyways…
apple cider caramels.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
The key here is to use really delicious, farm fresh, unpasteurized apple cider!
4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, or a bit less of a finer one
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
wax or parchment paper for wrapping (or do yourself a favor and order some precut squares. We’re into these cellophane ones.)
Neutral oil for the knife
1. Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This takes about 35 to 40 minutes on my stove. Stir occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order — you won’t have time to spare once the candy is cooking! 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 salt together in a small dish.
Note: It’s important that your thermometer be accurate, because at this stage the difference of just one or two degrees will ruin your caramel. An easy way to check yours is to place it in rapidly boiling water. It should hit 212 F / 100 C. If it’s off, adjust the target 252 F by the same amount.
3. Once you’ve 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 F degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it — you don’t want your caramel to burn.
4. Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon-salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. 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 (seriously!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.
Caramels keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for two weeks. Or store them in the refrigerator if you like your caramels hard.