a reason to eat caramel, apple cider caramels, caramel anything, fall flavors, smitten kitchen

Apple Cider Caramels

I sometimes forget, maybe after an all night binge on Pinterest, that Smitten Kitchen exists. But, then I see one of her photos pinned and the next few hours are spent catching up on her blog. A recent reminder brought me one of the best recipes I’ve done in a while: Apple Cider Caramels.

Were you a fan of those neon green lollipops that are haphazardly covered in caramel?  Well, Deb–the woman at the helm of Smitten Kitchen–found a way to eliminate the lollipop portion all together, but still capture that childhood memory in a caramel. I think she even improved on the memory.

And I kind of love her for it.

Apple Cider Caramels
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.

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

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.

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.

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.
(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.)

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 (trust me!), 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.

Do ahead: Caramels keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for two weeks, but really, good luck with that.

a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, edible obsession, fat toad farm, goat milk caramel, Maple's Organic Gelato, Mexican chocolate, Taza Chocolate

Edible Obsession: Maple’s Organics Mexican Chocolate with Fat Toad Farm Goat’s Milk Caramel

You want to lick your screen, don’t you? That trifecta of sugary goodness comes at the union of three outstanding locally produced products: Maple’s Organics Gelato, Taza Mexican Chocolate and Fat Toad Farm Caramel

Maple’s is at the heart of the bowl of sin, blending their already wonderful Gelato with bits of crushed up Mexican styled chocolate from Taza, of Sommerville, MA. What Taza does, traditionally stone grinding the chocolate, isn’t being done really any where else in the US. The process makes for a very unique (coarse) texture to the chocolate and concentrates the flavor, making it more intense.  Maple’s chose one of Taza’s spicy flavors (Guajillo? Chipotle? Cayenne? I’ve already tossed the empty container) and blended that in, adding a nice warming touch with the nibs of chocolate.

Warming? Who am I kidding?  It’s hot. Pretty darn hot, at that. It’s not as ridiculous as the Habanero Gelato I’ve had, but it’s up there. The Missus described her encounter with it as:
         “It’s so damn spicy.” (takes another mouthful) “But, the chocolate is so good.”  (takes another mouthful) “But, it’s so damn spicy.” (repeat until the bowl is empty)

That’s where the Fat Toad Vanilla Bean Caramel comes in. I had the ingenious idea of adding the Vermont made goat’s milk caramel to take off some of that heat and it worked, to a point.  It was thick enough to act as a barrier and the milk, itself, knocked down the heat a few notches. It was tolerable but, in the end, my mouth still felt like it was on fire. But, it’s one of those lovely pleasure/pain moments with food, that we endure because the pleasure (Maple’s chocolate gelatos and sorbettos are some of the best around town) outweighs the pain.

If you like to have your ice cream or gelato make you sweat, then look for Maple’s Mexican Chocolate flavor at a multitude of locations (from here to Connecticut). For Fat Toad Caramel, they list William-Sonoma as a seller, but I’d suggest ordering directly from their online store.

a reason to eat caramel, baking, baking while baked, brown eyed baker, candy bar pie, caramel anything

Take 5 Candy Bar Pie

It’s candy AND it’s pie?


Actually, it shouldn’t be much of a shock considering that Momofuku Milk Bar does it’s own naughy nougaty version of Candy Bar Pie (see the picture above from Serious Eats) and there are various recipes for pies out there naming themselves after popular candy bars. And, because I’ll make anything as an excuse to eat a pint of caramel, coming across a Brown Eyed Baker recipe for a Take 5 Candy Bar pie, was an easy temptation.

I didn’t even know what a Take 5 bar consisted of until I read the recipe and then found myself thinking, “Fuck. I need to stop doing this to myself.” But chocolate, pretzels, caramel, pecans and peanut butter all in one pie is pretty hard to resist.  So, I quickly ignored my inner thoughts and threw together the richest pie I do believe I have ever baked–or, rather, chilled. That’s right, we now have something to rival Crack Pie.

One change to the recipe is that I used toasted pecans instead of the peanuts that are called for in the recipe because I had them on hand.

For the Pretzel Crust:
4 ounces pretzel sticks, finely ground in a food processor or blender
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the Caramel Sauce:
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¾ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

For the Pie:
½ cup creamy peanut butter, melted
1/3 cup prepared caramel sauce
¼ cup coarsely chopped peanuts
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

1. Make the Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the ground pretzels, melted butter, and sugar. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and chill in the refrigerator until firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, Make the Caramel Sauce. Whisk the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium-size heavy saucepan until well combined. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the sugar mixture, without stirring, until it becomes a rich caramel color, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream until the caramel sauce is smooth, using caution as the mixture may bubble up. (If the sauce seizes, stir it over low heat until the hardened caramel is melted.) Whisk in the butter and set aside.

3. Assemble the Pie: Smooth the warmed peanut butter evenly over the bottom of the pretzel crust. Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Pour the caramel sauce over the peanut butter layer and gently spread with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the caramel layer. Refrigerate for another 10 minutes. Finish with a smooth layer of melted chocolate. Refrigerate the pie until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Pie can then remain at room temperature until serving. If you have leftovers, cover with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, childhood nostalgia, fat toad farm, stickler chocolates, sweet marguerites

Canadian Caramels

My obsession with caramel is known far and wide. I accepted it long ago, probably around age 5 or 6, that this obsession would forever be engrained in me. It’s an easy truth to swallow.

When you consciously love something for a long time, it’s funny to see the evolution happen. Sugar Daddy’s, Cow Tales, 100 Grand candy bars–they were what I raided my piggy bank for and a huge contributor to my ‘husky’ size as a child. Now, I don’t blink an eye to pay $10 for a handful of well crafted caramels.

Caramel is so special to me that I’ve even given part of myself to it. Several years ago, when I was working in a kitchen in town and prepping some desserts for the day, I was severely burned by caramel. I had just finished pouring some hot sugar into ramekins for Flan and was swirling it around in the dishes when some splashed over the side and onto three of my fingers. The pain was excruciating, as one would image that 300+ degree burning sugar would be when it hits your flesh. As I waited for my chef to help me take care of it, I took my unburned hand and continued to swirl the other ramekins. I wasn’t going to see the caramel go to waste. It didn’t and thankfully, despite my injury, the dessert was saved.

That hasn’t stopped me from making my own, though the feeling of being burned still resides at the forefront of my mind whenever I’m making a batch at home. But, I don’t have to make it too often as there are so many great caramels out there that call to my more adult palate. Sweet Marguerites, of South Portland, and Fat Toad Farm, of Vermont, usually fill the void when I have a craving and no desire to turn on my stove. Sweet Marguerites is there when I want one of their salty, gooey caramel filled chocolate daisies and Fat Toad’s unique creamy goat’s milk caramel is often stirred into my coffee instead of sugar.

But, there’s a new caramel in my life, though it’s one a bit harder to procure. Stickler Chocolates, out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, makes a line of dark beer flavored caramels that are out of this world.

Using beer from Garrison Brewing Company in Halifax, the candies are soft, buttery with more depth, and a slight bitterness, than I’m used to in my caramels. Their color is so rich, that it’s hard not to think that there’s molasses hiding somewhere in the recipe. They’re bite sized pieces of what I imagine Butterbeer to taste like.

But, sadly, they’re not really available in Portland. Not yet, at least. The ones that I had were given to me and were quickly gobbled up, leaving me wanting more. Luckily, though, they are available for order through their website and are definitely something to consider when you’re looking for a gift to give a beer or sugar loving friend.

a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, matzoh, matzoh crunch, passover fun

Gussying Up Matzoh

Being raised Roman Catholic, my springtime religious holidays–Lent and Easter–were synonymous with fish on Friday’s and glazed ham, respectively. Matzoh, needless to say, wasn’t even in my vocabulary growing up. I have yet to even have Matzoh Ball soup. Yet, somehow, I found myself compelled to make a batch of Matzoh Crunch, the only way I’ve ever eaten Matzoh, after seeing a giant display of it at the supermarket. Otherwise, I can’t think of a single recipe that would have brought it into the house.

It’s quick, it’s easy and so sugary addictive that you will forget exactly how bland the plain Matzoh is. One slight play on this recipe is done with Saltine Crackers, which I’m sure is equally good (especially since Kate raved about it so much).

Matzoh Crunch

4-6 unsalted matzohs

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or unsalted Passover margarine

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup coarsely chopped chocolate chips or semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large (or two smaller) cookie sheet completely with foil. Cover the bottom of the sheet with baking parchment — on top of the foil. This is very important since the mixture becomes sticky during baking.

Line the bottom of the cookie sheet evenly with the matzohs, cutting extra pieces, as required, to fit any spaces.

In a 3-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter or margarine and the brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil (about 2 to 4 minutes). Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and pour over the matzoh, covering completely.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350°. Bake for 15 minutes, checking every few minutes to make sure the mixture is not burning (if it seems to be browning too quickly, remove the pan from the oven, lower the heat to 325°, and replace the pan).

Remove from the oven and sprinkle immediately with the chopped chocolate or chips. Let stand for 5 minutes, then spread the melted chocolate over the matzoh. While still warm, break into squares or odd shapes. Chill, still in the pan, in the freezer until set.

a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, naughty chefs, nigella lawson, sea salt, why rachael ray?

The Difference Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

See that? That, my friend, is Nigella Lawson covered in salted caramel. Apparently she is, “In the middle of a love affair” with it. So much so, that she covered herself in it for the latest issue of Stylist magazine.

And this is Rachael Ray posing in FHM a few years back. A bit of a ‘Farmers Daughter’ thing ya got going on there, Rachael.

Sexy British Cooks: 1
Sexy American Cooks: 0

a reason to eat caramel, british candy review, british sweets, caramel anything, deep fried mars bars, mars bar

Bag of Limey Treats pt.3

Milky Way please meet your more mature doppelganger–the original Mars Bar. This chocolate bar, filled with my favorite sweet treat duo of caramel and nougat, was one that seemed vaguely familiar to me from convenience store shelves growing up. The bar I had seen, however, had the added dimension of almonds where this UK import was nutless. Not being one who grew up liking almonds or whole peanuts messing with my caramel or nougat, I leaned more towards things like Charleston Chew and 100 Grand, shunning Snickers and the US Mars bar(which would later be renamed Snickers with Almonds).

It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I had heard of the phenomenon that would propel the original Mars bar into it’s cult status and turn it into a staple of American fairways: battered and deep fried. First becoming popular in Scotland, it took several years before Americans would be snatching them up by the armful at county and state fairs. The deep fried candy bar would be the precursor to deep fried Twinkies, cheesecake, Oreos and even deep fried butter. God Bless Texas, huh?

While I did think, for a microsecond, about having this bar tempura battered and fried, I thought it best that this virginal Mars experience was best kept intact and unadorned. And while my munchies would have loved the added salt and oil leaving it as is was the best decision because, so far, it is the best of the bag.

The nougat is a bit darker, lighter and creamier than the one in the American Milky Way. The caramel, richer, more akin to a dulce de leche than any caramel filling I’ve had in an off the shelf chocolate bar. The milk chocolate, like the previous ones, was less sweet than their American counterparts and I find it funny that this bar was created to actually be a sweeter alternative to the US Milky Way bar.

Splitting the bar with the Missus left me pulling my half apart into tiny chunks so that I could savor every last morsel. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a simple candy bar as much as I enjoyed this one and, while novelty seems to have revived it’s popularity, to have it in any other form seems like a true waste of a simple pleasure.