First off, let’s announce the random winners of the Crio Bru giveaway! Congratulations to #132 Lady of Perpetual Chaos who wrote, “I’m torn between the pumpkin spice and mint. And the Maracaiba raw looks good too. Oh, and the Cavalla dark roast sounds yummy. I’m pretty sure I just need some of each. ;o).” Our Facebook winner is Laura Otero. Congratulations ladies! Email me your addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you will be that much closer to sipping brewed cocoa on a cold winter’s night.
For those of you who did not win, don’t forget “The Sisters Cafe” coupon code will get you 20% off anything at Crio Bru through 12/17/12.
Now on to a seriously yummy new recipe…
I have been so excited to post these Apple Cider Caramels this Christmas candy making season. They are soooo good! I made them for the first time last year, and I loved them. The apple cider flavor comes through without overpowering the underlying caramel flavor. The first secret is using real apple cider. Not regular apple juice. Not even the apple juice that is labeled “apple cider” which is usually sitting on the shelf next to the apple juice and is really just regular apple juice with a different label. And certainly not the alcoholic version found in other countries. I am talking about the nearly opaque, unfiltered apple cider with the thin layer of sediment at the bottom. It is always sold in the refrigerated section of juices, and it is at least 100% more flavorful than regular old apple juice. I watch for the “Red Barn” brand to come to my local grocery store each fall, and I snap it up for wassail, caramels, syrup and just as a special treat in and of itself. I’ve had the Simply Apple brand of juice, which is carried year round, and I think it is nearly as good. So… start with a good quality cider. The next secret is to use whole spices like cinnamon sticks and whole allspice berries while reducing the apple cider. The first time I made these caramels, I put the ground spices into the caramel and I didn’t like how it made them kind of gritty. So I changed to whole spices in the reduction process, and I got perfect results. The last secret is using a candy thermometer. You can buy them for a couple of bucks at Wal-Mart, and they are worth every penny. Remember that boiling points are different depending on where you live, so it is always a good idea to google what the boiling point of water should be in your area. I suggest inserting your thermometer into boiling water for 10 minutes and then reading it to make sure the thermometer is accurate. The thermometer I am using now is off by about ten degrees (The boiling point of water in Highland, Utah is 203. My water boiled at 193 according to my thermometer, so I adjusted all the temperatures in my recipe down ten degrees. I ended up with perfect caramel.). I check my thermometer every year because it is easy to do, and it makes me feel good that I know where my thermometer stands for sure each year. Finally, don’t be intimated by caramel! It isn’t really hard, it just takes watching. Now on to the recipe! I guarantee that if you are a caramel lover and an apple cider fan, you will LOVE these Apple Cider Caramels. PS You can reduce the cider ahead of time. This is my favorite part (except eating the end result, of course) as it will make your house smell heavenly for the day.
Apple Cider Caramels
Submitted by Mindy ~ The Sisters Cafe
2 cups high quality apple cider
1 cup heavy cream
4-5 cinnamon sticks (can substitute 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon – be warned it will make the caramel a little gritty)
10 all spice berries (can substitute 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice – same warning applies here)
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cubed
Pour cider into a medium saucepan and boil on high for about 20 minutes or until the cider is reduced to 1/3 c. (keep a glass or silicone measuring cup handy so you can pour it out and back in again if you need to). Set aside to cool.
Line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper, making sure to leave about 1″ hanging over the edges for easy removal. I actually prefer to just butter the pan well and forget about the parchment paper, because I think the parchment paper is a pain. However if you use parchment paper, I would still spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set prepared pan aside.
In a small bowl, combine 2/3 c. cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and reduced apple cider. Set aside.
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, 1/3 c. whipping cream + enough water to reach the 1/2 c. line on the measuring cup, and corn syrup. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Insert the candy thermometer and simmer until the syrup reaches 234 degrees.
Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream mixture. Add the cubed butter and stir until the cream and butter are fully incorporated. Return the pan to heat and re-insert the candy thermometer. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 248 degrees (see number 1 and 2 in the tips section).
Remove from heat and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Let the mixture cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator. (If you buttered the pan like I do, you will probably need a spatula to help get the caramel out of the pan). Cut the caramels into 1/2-1 inch squares and wrap each caramel in wax paper or plastic wrap (see number 5 in the tips section).
General Caramel Making Tips (reposted from the Homemade Caramels recipe already posted):
1. Calibrate your candy thermometer. To do this, look up what temperature water boils at your altitude. Next boil water in your pot with your candy thermometer and note at what temperature it reads when the water boils. This will tell you if your candy thermometer is “off” and by how many degrees. This will help you know if you need to add or subtract a certain number of degrees in a recipe. (see the recipe intro above)
2. (and most important!) I would suggest checking your caramel the old fashioned way… when it gets close to the temp you think it will be done at, drop a tiny bit of caramel into ice water and swirl the water around with a spoon a little. The caramel should harden quickly. If it forms a ball that is the right consistency you like, it’s ready. I like it to form a solid ball that is firm but still be soft enough to squish between your fingers when pressure is applied. This is completely subjective though, which is why this is a great method to get it the way YOU like it!
3. Don’t stir it when it gets close to the end. In fact, it needs minimal stirring at all!
4. Do not touch or disturb the caramel once you’ve poured it into the pan – wait patiently for it to set up.
5. I like to wrap in waxed paper. I rip the paper from the roll in 4 1/2 -5 inch strips then cut those in half. (That’s perfect for a piece ~1 inch square) Then roll the piece of caramel and twist ends. Grip the paper from the far edge to twist in, otherwise it will rip.
Recipe adapted from Our Best Bites