Autumn brings its own assortment of flavors to the forefront — comforting tastes, textures and aromas of favorites like cinnamon, bubbling apple desserts, pumpkin, ginger and, of course, caramel. Who doesn’t associate the caramel apples of childhood with fall carnivals, Halloween and maybe even visits to the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen in Gatlinburg, nose pressed to glass as mesmerizing candy-pulling machines spin their sweet magic?
To be sure, today we’re not talking about homemade caramel that requires candy thermometers, precise temperatures and, let’s be honest, practice. We’re talking a few quick, easy ways to use caramel as we celebrate fall.
It has to start with caramel apples.
Most caramel apple connoisseurs tap Granny Smiths as the fruit of choice for this seasonal staple. The Grannies’ tartness complements the caramel’s sweetness.
“For caramel apples, the Granny Smith is the ultimate in my book, but Golden Delicious and Jonagold work well if tartness isn’t your thing,” says joepastry.com and a host of other foodies, professional and otherwise.
At home, the process can be as simple as using six apples (remove stems), with wooden or heavy bamboo skewers. Mix 14 ounces of unwrapped caramels and 2 tablespoons of water (or milk for more creaminess) in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for a minute or two — stirring about every minute — until the mixture is melted. Then dip the apples. (Be sure apples are completely dry. If you detect the waxy coating apples are often shipped with is making the caramel slide off, Pillsbury suggests a quick dunk in boiling water for about 30 seconds or so to remove the coating. Be sure, however, that apples are completely cool before dipping in caramel. Other sources recommend scrubbing the apples.)
Then, the fun starts. Coat apples in toppings that run the gamut from crushed peanuts, Oreos or M&Ms to butterscotch or toffee bits.
“Roll them in whatever you want,” said Las Vegas chef Bryan Ogden in an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Chopped nuts, coconut or whatever. You can drizzle chocolate over them when they’re cool.” Be sure to have a greased pan or baking sheet ready, or one covered in parchment paper. Chill the apples in the fridge for about 15 minutes to help set the caramel.
If a whole apple is too much, there are several tutorials online for using a small melon baller to make mini caramel apples — great for adult parties — at sites like divascancook.com, sheknows.com or youtube.com.
Spreads, turtles and tortes
A super easy caramel apple cream cheese spread is great for parties large or small, including tailgates.
“It couldn’t be simpler to make,” said Amy Johnson at shewearsmanyhats.com. “Seriously, it’s so easy, it’s sort of like cheating.”
Three ingredients and about three minutes is all it takes to put together this sweetened-up cream cheese. It will take a little longer to cut up the apples or pears or whatever you choose to serve it with.
Cornflake turtles make bite-sized treats, while a caramel ice cream torte turns vanilla ice cream into a dessert that will convince everyone you’ve been watching the food channel.
Check out the oh-so-doable recipes below, including one for a quick, rich caramel sauce from recipes.com that can be made at the last minute and used on bread pudding, gingerbread, apple pie, chopped apples, ice cream –anything.
CARAMEL APPLE CREAM CHEESE SPREAD
8 ounces cream cheese
Caramel sauce (store-bought is fine)
Sliced apples (or pears or pretzels, for serving)
(Source: shewearsmanyhats.com, Amy Johnson)
Total time: 40 minutes
Makes 12 turtles
12 individually wrapped small caramels, unwrapped
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
2/4 cup cornflakes
(Source: realsimple.com, Sara Quessenberry)
ICE CREAM TORTE
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream, softened
1 cup caramel sauce
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
(Source: realsimple.com, Sara Quessenberry)
OH, SO EASY CARAMEL SAUCE
Total time: 10 minutes
Makes 8 servings
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
(Source: allrecipes.com, Barb Maxwell)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.