These are another item I made for the Philly Swappers food swap last night. I brought some into work today and they were a major hit. I've already been asked to bring in more, which I should be able to manage as I still have some apple cider and heavy cream.
I was inspired to do something with apple cider because I had some left in my fridge after the last Books & Snacks event. I stumbled across one recipe for apple cider caramels and gave it a shot. Unfortunately, they just did not turn out the way I wanted. The texture was a bit off and the allspice was extremely overpowering to the point of hiding the apple cider flavor almost entirely. Instead of apple cider caramels, they tasted like allspice caramels. I don't know if I did something wrong or what exactly happened, but that batch wasn't going anywhere but the trash.
But I was stuck on the idea of wanting to make apple cider caramels. I thought about trying the first recipe again, but then I saw someone mention a recipe for them over at Smitten Kitchen. I took a look and figured I'd give this one a shot. As is almost always my way, I tinkered just a little. I liked the idea of a blend of spices from the first recipe so I adjusted as I went. Feel free to change the ratios to taste. I think I probably did a bit more cinnamon and a bit less allspice and nutmeg than I have listed here, but for the sake of the recipe, I've done more exact measurements.
The recipe calls for the caramel to come up to 252 degrees, which worked okay for me, but the caramels ended up just a touch firmer than I expected. I don't know if that was the weather or some other factor, but the next time I try these, I might go to 251 or 250 and see how they turn out.
I'm not always the greatest at getting my mise en place all set before starting a recipe. If you're like me, you'll want to break that habit for this. Fortunately, you have the time while the apple cider is simmering down, but seriously, get everything out, measured, and ready before it is even close to done. If you have other things you plan to make while the caramel is cooling, cut your waxed paper squares ahead of time. You don't want the caramels to sit unwrapped once they've been cut.
Apple Cider Caramels
4 cups apple cider
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Waxed paper cut into 4" squares (about 49, depending on how many caramels you eat before you get them wrapped)
1- Boil the apple cider in a large saucepan (original recipe calls for 3 or 4 quart, I used 2 1/2) over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This took about 45 minutes on my (sigh) electric stove. Stir occasionally.
2- Line the bottom and sides of an 8" straight-sided square metal baking pan with a long sheet of parchment paper. Make sure there is enough area sticking up over the sides that you can grab it. You'll be using this paper to lift the caramels out of the pan later. Stir the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt together in a small dish. Set these both aside.
3- When the apple cider is reduced, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium-high heat and let it boil until a candy thermometer reads 252 degrees (this took about 7 minutes on my stove). You can use very cold water to test the caramel, but I think if you're going to try to do this, you're better off getting a thermometer to start.
4- Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the spice-salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm. It took mine about three hours to cool. You can use the fridge to make it go faster, but that didn't turn out so well for me with the first batch.
5- When the caramel is firm, use the parchment paper to lift out the caramel and transfer it to a cutting board. Use a well-oiled knife, oiling it after each cut, 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.
These will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. Or take them to work and they'll disappear in a couple of hours.
Caramels waiting to be wrapped