Cara-Fail Apples (Or, We Don’t Always Get It The First Time)

Recently, a friend said, “I want to know why the recipes you have in the Country Life blog are always so perfect! In my kitchen, cakes fall, and things blow up!” Well, here’s the ugly truth: Things don’t always go swimmingly. Take caramel apples, for instance.

The idea was to make caramel from scratch, then to compare scratch-made caramel-coated apples with “quick” caramel apples, the ones made from melted caramel pieces. My niece Kimmy volunteered to assist, and I agreed, not knowing what fate awaited us.

Melted Caramel Apples

Annie B caramels. Check out Lehmans.com for hard candies and seasonal goodies too.

These are the only kind I’ve ever made prior to this experiment.  They’re easy: Unwrap a bunch of your favorite pre-made caramels (I chose Annie B’s regular and raspberry flavored from Lehman’s in Kidron), add a tablespoon of cream, and stir gently, in a double boiler until melted and smooth.

Kimmy washed the four apples: two each of Gala and Honeycrisp. For fun, we decided to do two red pears too. There was no wax on any of the fruit after washing.

Since I didn’t have a double boiler pan, I used a small sauce pan with a couple of inches of water in the bottom, topped with a heat-proof bowl. The caramels and cream went in, and eventually melted. We let it cool about 5 minutes, and then Kimmy dipped the first Gala, first Honeycrisp and the first red pear.

At left: the washed organic fruit. Top, dipping the pear. Bottom, dipping the Gala apple.

Note that it’s easiest to get complete coverage on the fruit when it’s held at an extreme angle.

You may have to also tilt your pan (or heat proof bowl), using a dishtowel to protect your hands from the heat. Most pears have a durable enough stem that you can use it as a ‘handle’ while you coat the pear with caramel. Pears will also support a traditional ‘stick’ if they aren’t too soft.

We set the first batch of fruit aside on a foil-covered tray, and started on the scratch caramel. We used this recipe from www.food.com, which makes quite a bit of caramel. We were hoping to use some of the leftover caramel as candy treats for our family members.

Following the directions (or so we thought), we mixed the ingredients, clipped the candy thermometer to the pan, and started cooking the caramel. But it quickly became apparent that I had chosen too large a pan in which to make the caramel, and that the caramel wasn’t heating to the correct temperature because the pan was too broad.

The caramel pooling under the first batch of coated fruit.

I transferred it into a smaller diameter saucepan, the temperature finally started to come up, and the mixture thickened nicely. We let it cool as per the directions. Kimmy coated the second batch of fruit, and as we went to place it on the tray, we noticed that our first batch looked alarmingly…naked. The caramel was sliding right off!

Sadly, this happened to our second batch too, although the taste testers in Lehman’s office said that both batches of caramel were tasty, even when they were scraped off the foil with pieces of apple and pear. A friend who is a candy expert pinpointed  issues that may have led to failure.

“First of all, it was really humid when you tried to make them,” she said, and went on to note that just that added humidity makes it difficult to have caramel that will set firmly, even when using a candy thermometer. She thinks I may have added too much cream to the unwrapped caramel candies. “Don’t add more than a teaspoon of whole milk or cream to the store bought caramels–you can always add a bit if the caramel seems too thick after you melt the pieces!”

Her final point was also well-taken. “You can’t win ’em all! It was your first time, and for a first try, you did pretty well.” Scratch-made caramel can be tricky, she said, and she encouraged us to get back in the kitchen with a true double boiler and try again.