apple cider caramels

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You know how you never forget your first? Well, Smitten Kitchen was my first food blog and I instantly fell in love with Deb Perelman’s photos, her recipes, her style of writing, and especially her stories. She only features the best of recipes (including this unbelievable chocolate peanut butter cake that you’ve seen here) and her blog is often one of the first places I turn to when I’m looking for a particular kind of recipe because I know she’s going to deliver.

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I was so excited when I found out that Deb was coming out with a cookbook, and three years later, it finally went to print and I had one waiting at my doorstep the day it was released. Imagine my glee when I then found out that she was coming to Boston and giving a talk and signing books at my favorite bookstore. Tickets ran out in two hours, but fanatic that I am, I called the second the store opened and had no problem gettings tickets.

The short talk was interesting, but the real highlight was getting to meet her and tell her what an inspiration she was for me to start my own blog. Even though I had to wait in line for two hours to meet her (and we were in the first third of the line!), it hardly felt like it because of the great conversation with other Smitten Kitchen fans in line (one of whom I later found out was none other than the dedicated SK reader who introduced Deb to the brown hazelnut brown butter cake that I love. Thank you, Rachel!).

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If you’re a Smitten Kitchen fan but haven’t already run out and bought the book, what are you waiting for? While there are a few repeats, most of the recipes are new. When I first got it, I tore through the book, adding nearly every single recipe to my mental “must make soon!” recipe list. One recipe in particular caught my eye because I love caramel and I love apple cider. To be honest, I was downright giddy about the prospect of apple cider caramels.

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Better yet, I had my sister’s baby shower as an excuse to try out the caramels. I set to work with great enthusiasm but halfway through suddenly remembered I had never made caramel candies and was terrified that I had no idea what I was doing. Armed with my candy thermometer, I made it through and was mostly successful (just ignore the bubbly section in the picture above that came out too hard from overheating). The candy thermometer was new and I think it may not be as accurate as I wish it was.

While the execution may not have been perfect, the flavors were phenomenal. The deep, rich warmth of  apple cider and subtle cinnamon make these caramels immensely satisfying and comforting.

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These caramels would be a great gift for your nearest and dearest this holiday season (or even your mailman or dogwalker). Better yet, package up some caramels with a copy of the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and who knows, maybe they’ll have you over for dinner to test out some outstanding recipes.

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apple cider caramels

Recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Caramels keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for two weeks.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or 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
  • Neutral oil for the knife

Instructions

  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, because 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 it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.
  3. 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. (If you 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.)
  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, 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.
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