Friday, January 13, 2012

An Apple (or Two) a Day

Fall and Winter around here usually means that apples and apple products begin making their appearance in rather staggering amounts. Call it an attempt at frugal living, call it a sad stab at balancing out the rich foods of the holidays, but whatever the reason we always seem to have way more apples at the brink of "overripe" than we can handle at the end of the season. This ends in one of three ways - impromptu dried apple rings, apple sauce, or it's kissing cousin apple butter. All three found their way into the household this year, and thanks to the holiday yearnings for apple butter-pumpkin pie and a round of colds that left us slurping warmed applesauce for comfort most of the bounty was used by year's end.

Just before Christmas, when we were all more than sated with appley fare, my stepdad came home with a holiday gift from his office: a giant, one gallon jug of organic apple cider. For those of you who don't know what this glorious drink is, it's basically unsweetened, unfiltered, pressed apple juice. When you buy it in the stores, chances are it's pasteurized, but it still has a definite shelf life. After force-feeding it to friends and family and drinking ourselves to the point of bursting, we still had a decent amount left over - and given my Scottish (read: cheap!) nature I didn't want to see it poured down the drain. Cider is one of those things that I only ever get to consume in the Fall, when we go apple picking, so it's fairly close to my heart. I wanted to embrace and promote the rich, warming flavour of the beverage in whatever I did with it, and was glad to find so many others felt the same way. I picked a couple that sounded interesting and went to town. One of them I was fairly confident I could make grand substitutions to and still pull it off without much issue... but the second (which also served to use up the dregs of heavy cream) pretty much scared the bejeezus out of me.

The original recipe for this loaf from Gourmet's October 1991 magazine only called for apple cider to be included, along with pumpkin, walnuts and orange zest. But I had no pumpkin (since I made some other goodies with those leftovers - will share soon!) and was loath to buy yet another can of it. I did have the perfect amount of apple butter though... and some 12 grain flour and golden raisins to use up. You can see where this is going!

Grainy Apple Raisin Bread
Serves 10
1 cup apple cider
juice and zest of 1 orange
3 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 cup apple butter
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup 12-grain hot cereal
1/2 cup 12-grain flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
  1. In a saucepan, reduce the apple cider until only 1/4 cup is left. Let cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a large 9x5" loaf pan.
  3. Heat the orange juice and pour into a large bowl. Whisk in the zest and flaxseed. Let sit 2-3 minutes.
  4. Mix in the apple butter, oil, egg, vanilla, honey, brown sugar and apple cider reduction.
  5. Stir in the cereal, flours, spice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until just combined.
  6. Fold in the raisins.
  7. Cover pan with foil and bake 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake a further 1/2 hour, or until a tester comes out clean.
  8. Cool in the pan before turning out.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 296.8
Total Fat: 7.4 g
Cholesterol: 18.5 mg
Sodium: 20.0 mg
Total Carbs: 58.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.9 g
Protein: 4.8 g
Then came the project I both looked forward to and dreaded the most - caramels. It's no secret that the thought of boiling sugar ranks up in the top tier of my greatest fears (along with hot oil and moving bug legs), but as Carla puts it, it was one of those things "on the list".

Granted, these (now) perfectly formed, chewy squares of appley deliciousness almost didn't happen in my kitchen. I first ran out of heavy cream. I did have premium coconut milk and some coconut cream powder, though, which I prayed would make up the difference being high in fat. Some brown sugar entered the pot too, more out of habit than anything else, and after reading some of the comments on Kate's apple cider caramel post I added some sea salt and maple syrup to the mixture too. I know - I've never made candy of any sort before, why am I getting all substitution-y on it first time around? Simply because I'm like that. I'm totally incapable of following directions as written or spoken. At school I was always the kid that asked what if and why

Everything was looking good and hunky-dory gooey, I had my greased and parchmented pan all set, a brand new candy thermometer at hand and my mom's trusty old wooden spoon standing by. Then, in an attempt to keep the mess to a minimum, I transferred my glass candy thermometer into a cup of warm liquid and was rewarded with a shattered tube. Thankfully, the glass shards were in the water, not the caramel or the kitchen floor. But with no other high-temp thermometers around and a pot of boiling fat and sugar on the stove I had to do something. So I pulled out my mom's old Joy of Cooking and quickly read up on the "ice water tests" for candymaking, then got to work dipping and testing until I was seeing something that resembled the 248 degree "firm ball" stage called for on Kate's recipe. I poured the heavenly-scented mixture into it's pan and waited for it to firm up.

And waited. And waited. And stuck it in the fridge. And waited.
Needless to say, the "firm ball" test was a lie.
But Google to the rescue - I found out that the pan was not a wasted exercise, since I could simply re-boil it to the right temperature, provided I could tell the right temperature! A 10 minute trip to the store and $7 later I had a digital instant-read thermometer and a renewed sense of confidence. It took forever to get to 248 degrees, but while I waited I had the chance to take a look at the original recipe. Well, it didn't call for 248 degrees, or "firm ball" stage - it stated a full 250. It may sound like a minute difference, but it does make a difference. I was paranoid and let it creep to 252, since that's what my mom's book said "hard ball" was and had a caramel recipe with that temperature.

But it worked! I did stick the finished pan in the fridge overnight before cutting the squares, because even the most perfect cream caramels are chewy and sticky at room temperature. Greasing the heavy-duty chef knife and the bench scraper I eventually used for the squares helped a ton too! So lessons learned: the importance of a GOOD candy thermometer, the confidence to make something totally new, different and (admittedly) dangerous, and that even with boiling sugar you can throw some pages of the rulebook out the window!

Apple Cider Creme Caramels
Recipe adapted from the blog "Our Best Bites" who in turn modified it from America’s Dairy Farmers.
Makes 64 pieces
2 1/2 cups fresh apple cider (I used Filsinger's)
2 (1 cm wide) slices fresh gingerroot
2/3 cup full-fat coconut milk (pick the highest fat concentration you can find, I used Thai Kitchen)
2 tsp apple pie spice (or cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup unsalted, cultured butter, cubed (you can use regular unsalted if that's what you have)
  1. Combine apple cider and ginger slices in a pot and boil until the liquid has been reduced to 1/3 cup. Remove ginger, discarding (or eat it if you want...) and set aside to cool.
  2. Line a 9" square pan with well greased parchment paper, leaving 2" overhang on all sides, and set aside.
  3. In a cup or bowl, combine coconut milk, spice, salt and reduced cider and set aside.
  4. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, mix heavy cream, water, sugars, corn syrup and maple syrup.
  5. Place over medium heat and cook, gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.
  6. Insert a candy thermometer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally and brushing down sides of the pot with water, until the syrup reaches 235F.
  7. Remove from the heat, and slowly whisk in the spiced cream mixture.
  8. Return to low heat and add the cubed butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is homogenous.
  9. Re-insert the candy thermometer and increase the heat to medium.
  10. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the temperature measures 252F.
  11. Pour the caramel immediately into the lined pan, and cool at room temperature at least 4 hours. Place in the refrigerator a further 2 hours, until firm.
  12. Unmould and cut into 64 squares, wrapping each in heavy duty wax paper (I used wax paper on the inside and foil on the outside so they'd stay closed.
  13. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks, or in the fridge for 1 month.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 41.7 
Total Fat: 1.4 g
Cholesterol: 2.8 mg
Sodium: 24.3 mg
Total Carbs: 8.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 0.1 g

1 comment :

  1. Doing it without a thermometer is quite difficult - we've done brittle 3 times now, and once had it come out ... well, like glass, it was so hard. There IS a stage beyond "hard ball" stage, and I guess we got there.

    We have 2 candy thermometers - one which clamps to the side of the vessel, one which is digital (and handy for testing bread & cake). They're still packed somewhere, though, so we'll do without for awhile.

    That caramel sounds delicious!


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