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Under de-construction. (CARAMEL & APPLES)

October 19, 2008

caramel_apples

A driving force behind much of my culinary research is food that sounds great but never really meets expectations. I am a crusader to eradicate this kind of disappointment from meals and outings the world over. Don’t eat another pretty cupcake that sucks or Thai food that smells great but arrives in a greasy mess! That is how I feel too often, and if you need a recommendation for a better version of either, let me know. Today’s target is the the caramel apple. It has always been one of those things that has great promise in my imagination, yet never really delivers. Impenetrable caramel, mushy apple, someone knocked it off the stick, whatever. Looking back, it was an awkward treat at best. Fast forward a couple of decades and I am here thinking, “what a perfect fall package!” Apples in their crispy-prime, warm caramel, crunchy toppings, etc. The plan is to abolish fears of making caramel, perfect a versatile caramel coating, and let the possibilities begin there.

I demonstrated this creamy sauce last week in a cooking class where we knocked together a three course meal (four if you count the amuse bouche) at the culinary center in the monstrous new Whole Foods on the Bowery in NYC. Between recipe testing and the class itself, I produced this recipe a good four times, including once for this entry. The final attempt yielded the best outcome and fortuitously, I photographed it. Following along will make it easy to put caramel sauce under your belt. The written recipe can be found below, after photos and chit-chat. Please note, you can pour this stuff on tennis shoes and they’ll taste good.

I have mostly backed away from cooking all things caramel, even though I love to eat them because I was put off by an instance where I left it unguarded for a millisecond and scorched it to hell. This is dangerous and smells really bad, so no texting while making caramel sauce. K?

After revisiting caramel sauce recently for a flan recipe I assisted in Mexico, I realized, it is sooo easy but impossible without the secret ingredient: patience. Yes. It will go slow, really slow, then fast! Knowing this is half the battle. Sugar will take its sweet time melting and getting a little brown, but will go from brown to black in a flash. When melting sugar alone, the result will be a hard, candy-like caramel. For this deconstruction of the classic caramel apple, the addition of butter and cream will make a slick sauce with the ability to pour and coat the apple slices. The extra ingredients will also help it keep for a while, it can get used in all sorts of good ways.

caramel_sugar

A splash of water in the first step helps the sugar color evenly as it melts. When it begins to dissolve, go ahead and stir. It will get clumpy, but all of those clumps will eventually melt with the help of your stirring. It takes a while. Here is where you add the first portion of patience. Do not let the mixture become too dark. Keep the flame medium low.

caramel_lumps

Once smooth, and amber in color (may vary from light to medium brown), the butter goes in.

caramel_smooth

Please be careful through this entire process and especially when you add the cream. The mixture will bubble up fiercely. Stand back a little and be safe. Keep whisking until you have silky sauciness.

Hey wait a minute, why is that caramel being poured through a strainer?! Well, as I was about to pour over the apples, I saw noticed tiny sugar pebbles were undissolved in the bottom of my silky sauce. The taste and texture were fine, but just these pesky little pieces were still there. Quick fix was an immediate strain and now it is good to go. My friend and extraordinary pastry chef, Marcellus Holton, explains that adding a pinch of lemon juice to the melting sugar will help prevent crystallization. It is an optional addition.

caramel_strain+clean

One last, last thing: caramel cleanup. The pot and some of the utensils will have stuck on caramel. Fill the sticky pot with water and bring it to a boil with the utensils inside. Once boiling, the mess will dissolve. Proceed to wash as usual.

CARAMEL AND APPLES

The ingredients you can add on are endless; sea salt, nuts, cinnamon, flaked coconut, dried fruit. Try it drizzled over soft cheese, stuffed in a croissant or on top of yogurt. To quote my mom, ‘you can dress it up or down’.

1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, optional
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

  • Heat the sugar with water and lemon juice, if using, on moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  • When the sugar begins to melt, stir vigorously with wooden spoon.
  • When the sugar is liquid and amber in color, add butter to the pan. Whisk until melted, take the pan off the heat.
  • Wait five seconds, then slowly add the cream to the pan and continue to whisk to combine. (this is where is foams up!)
  • Whisk until caramel sauce is smooth. Let cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then pour into a jar and let sit to cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Bring to room temp before serving.
  • Pour over sliced apples. Dress it up.

Yields 1 cup.

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