Bad news calls for good apples 

Caramel-Dipped Apples

It's been a rough autumn for the food chain. First, it was the nationwide supermarket spinach scare. Then (albeit to a lesser degree), it was lettuce and carrot juice. Next came the FDA's announced plans to approve (coming soon!) the sale of meat and milk from cloned livestock. Rounding things out was the release of two major reports on seafood consumption, which offer contradicting information on risks and benefits, further deepening consumer confusion.

The ghoulish feel to the latest food news is reason enough to give up chewables altogether (IV drip, anyone?) or conversely, to go on an all-candy diet, just in time for Halloween. Below, I've taken an apple, icon of wholesome goodness, and given her a naughty cloak of caramel that will likely take the enamel right off my teeth. But given the recent dose of gloom and doom, I'll take my dental chances and bite my way into a sugar coma.

From the October 1999 issue of Bon Appetit magazine

2 cups dark brown sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2/3 cup dark corn syrup

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon dark molasses

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 medium apples of choice -- tart varieties such as Winesap, Granny Smith and York offer a nice contrast to the caramel coating

12 chopsticks

Decorations: Chopped nuts, dried fruit, melted chocolate

Combine all ingredients (minus the apples and chopsticks) in heavy 2 1/2-quart saucepan (about 3-inches deep). Stir with wooden spoon over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves (no crystals are felt when caramel is rubbed between fingers), occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush, about 15 minutes.

Attach clip-on candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat to medium-high; cook caramel at rolling boil until thermometer registers 236 degrees (known as "softball" stage), stirring constantly but slowly with clean wooden spatula (note: Silicone heat-proof spatula also works here), occasionally brushing sides of pan, about 12 minutes. Pour caramel into metal bowl (do not scrape pan). Submerge thermometer in caramel; cool, without stirring, to 200 degrees, about 20 minutes.

While caramel cools, line 2 baking sheets with foil or parchment paper and grease both pan and lining with butter. Push 1 chopstick into stem end of each apple.

Holding chopstick, dip 1 apple into caramel, submerging all but very top of apple. Lift apple out, allowing excess caramel to drip back into bowl. Turn apple caramel side up and hold for several seconds to help set caramel around apple. Place coated apple on prepared lining.

Repeat with remaining apples and caramel, spacing apples apart (caramel will pool at bottom). If caramel becomes too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream and briefly whisk caramel in bowl over low heat to thin.

Chill apples on sheets until caramel is partially set, about 15 minutes. Lift 1 apple from foil. Using hand, press pooled caramel around apple; return to foil. Repeat.

For decorating: Firmly press decorations into caramel; return each apple to liner, or dip caramel-coated apples into melted chocolate, allowing excess to drip off, then roll in nuts or candy.

Chill until decorations are set, about 1 hour. Cover; chill up to 1 week.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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