10.12.11 Apple Teeny
In the summer of 1976, I was allowed to fly out to New York by myself to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in Long Island. It was the bicentennial year, and I vividly recall the red-&-white-striped pantsuit my mother made me for this occasion, embroidered with navy blue stars. I was taken into the city to have lunch at Maxwell's Plum, and we drove through the caverns of Wall Street where the skyscrapers soared dizzyingly up into the wild blue yonder. It was at Bloomingdale's, though, where I was most intoxicated by the glamour, the excitement, the sheer abundance. For a thirteen-year old girl with a head full of frizzy curls and a mouthful of metal, the enormous caramel apple they sold there—a kitschy symbol of the Big Apple—was unattainably enticing. As volputuous as a Botero sculpture, one glistening end dipped in chopped nuts, it's remained forever a fantasy.
Last weekend, I decided to make a scaled-back version for our bonfire gathering. I asked G to pick up two dozen lady apples when he was in the city and was a bit alarmed when he came home with a couple of big bags full of mini Red Delicious apples. They told him these were lady apples
, but the ones I know are round and flattish, sort of like donut peaches, in mixed tones of gold and russet. Nevertheless, these little red beauties—firm, crisp, juicy and not too sweet—worked just as well, if not better.
Popsicle or lollipop sticks are the classic choices for caramel apples, but the picture next to both recipes I consulted online (at Food & Wine and at Martha Stewart) both featured twigs, and up here that seemed like a no-brainer. I grabbed some clippers and headed out to the fallen oak that crashed through our back fence during the hurricane, and 2 minutes later I had all the real sticks I needed. G suggested I angle my cuts so the pointy edge would pierce the apple easily. This is one reason husbands come in handy.
The cute factor is pretty high, you have to admit. As for the rest, well, it's a snap. Make the caramel and swirl the apples in it. It's a little stressful because you need to work quickly, but I made almost 30 in a very short time. The thing is, they don't really keep. By the time the party ended, about 8 hours after I made them, the caramel had hardened considerably, to the point where I almost lost a tooth trying to have "just one last bite."
Making the caramel is quite simple really, but you will need a thermometer. A candy thermometer is ideal (and inexpensive) because it will have markers at the key temperatures: soft ball, firm ball, etc. (These refer to the texture of the candy, you dirty bird.) This recipe calls for a little corn syrup. I've made my peace with it because I buy the organic kind, only use a little bit and have come to appreciate what it does for texture. If you object, here
is a recipe that uses only honey. I haven't tried it, but I'd like to next time. Of course I couldn't resist adding some freshly ground cardamom. You can leave it out, or try nutmeg or cinnamon instead. These flavors all pair beautifully with both the caramel and the apples, which themselves go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong.
Caramel Lady Apples
very lightly adapted from Peggy Cullen's recipe in Food & Wine
— 4 tablespoons unsalted organic butter, cut into tablespoons
— 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
— 3/4 cup light corn syrup
— 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
— 2 tablespoons water
— 1 1/4 cups organic cane sugar
— 1 cup heavy cream
— 24 lady apples
— 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
— 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, optional
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. If the apple stems aren't sturdy, insert wooden skewers or twigs into the tops.
In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil. Remove from the heat. In a large saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with the water and lemon juice. Using a wet pastry brush, wash down the side of the saucepan. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat without stirring and cook until the syrup begins to color around the edges, about 4 minutes. Swirl the pan carefully, then simmer until the caramel turns a light amber color, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Using a long-handled wooden spoon, carefully stir in the hot heavy cream.
Return the caramel to the heat and stir in the corn syrup, salt and the remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Add the butter and bring the caramel to a boil over moderately high heat. Wash down the side of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush. Insert a candy thermometer in the caramel and cook it over moderate heat until the thermometer registers 242°, 6 to 7 minutes. Set the saucepan on a wire rack and stir in the vanilla and cardamom. Let the caramel stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
WORKING QUICKLY, dip the lady apples into the caramel, letting any excess drip back into the pan. Set the apples on the prepared baking sheet. If the caramel becomes too thick, gently rewarm it over low heat. Let the caramel apples cool for 1 hour before serving.
*These can be made up to 4 hours ahead.