Raise your hand if you are or ever have been intimidated to make caramel. It seems like kind of a scary thing to make, doesn't it? Boiling sugar and butter until juuuuuust before it burns... it can be scary, for sure. But if you follow a few essential guidelines, you'll be totally fine. First and foremost, always alway always use a candy thermometer! Also, don't walk away for even a second. It can literally go from perfectly golden, delicious caramel to burnt and scorched sugar in the blink of an eye. But if you abide by these two rules, you will be rewarded.
And if you make caramels that start with apple cider, you will be very handsomely rewarded. I've had my eye on these caramels since the moment I laid eyes on them in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Deb even claims that this is her favorite recipe in the whole book! In her words, these caramels are "everything I love about New York City in October [...] in one tiny square." I've been to New York City in the fall, and I have to admit, there is something magical and indescribable about it. And just as she says, these caramels somehow manage to embody that.
You start by boiling down the best apple cider you can get your hands on - preferably from an apple orchard or farm. Once it's reduced to just a fraction of it's original volume, it will be syrupy, rich, and your house will smell absolutely amazing. Next, you add butter, sugar, and cream, and boil it into a rich, amber caramel sauce. Mix in cinnamon and sea salt, let the whole thing cool and set, and you will be treated to some pretty awesome caramels.
They are sweet - but not to sweet. Salty - but not to salty. And there's just a whisper of apple-spiced flavor lingering in the background. These caramels are really something special.
These make a pretty amazing snack on their own, but if you are interested in a killer dessert and can keep yourself from eating them all in one sitting, then I have a pretty great recipe on deck. I'll be sharing it later this week, so check back soon!
Apple Cider Caramels
barely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
makes about 64 caramels
- 4 cups apple cider
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 - 2 tsp flaky sea salt (fleur de sel)*
- 8 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (11 grams) lightly packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- neutral oil, for oiling the knife
Boil the cider in a 3-4 quart saucepan over medim-high heat, until it's reduced to a dark, thick, syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This should take about 30-40 minutes. Stir or swirl occasionally to prevent scorching.
Meanwhile, mix together the cinnamon and salt in a small bowl, and set aside; assemble the remaining ingredients as well, since once the caramel starts cooking, you won't have much time. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with 2 long sheets of criss-crossed parchment. Set aside.
Once the apple cider is reduced, remove from heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium-high heat, and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot.
Bring to a boil and cook until the thermometer reads 252 degrees Fahrenheit, and immediately remove from heat. This should only take about 5 minutes, so keep a close eye on it.
Remove the candy thermometer and stir in the cinnamon-salt mixture. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan, and set aside to cool completely. This will take about 2 hours at room temperature, and less time in the fridge.
Once the caramel is firm, use the parchment paper to transfer it to cutting board. Lightly oil a sharp knife, and cut the caramel into 1x1 inch squares, oiling the knife after each cut.
Wrap the caramels in 4-inch square pieces of wax paper, and store at room temperature.
*The original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt, but I found them to be have a slightly salty aftertaste. However, Joey thought they were perfect as-is, so I gave a range. If you use a finer-grain salt (such as table or sea salt), then definitely use less than 2 teaspoons.