Sunday, October 23, 2011

Spiced Apple Cider Caramels

Hope everyone had a good week.

For my part, I spent the week tinkering in the kitchen with batches of caramel and I have a wonderful new recipe to share with everyone. A caramel that tastes of freshly mulled apple cider. Oh yes, it's good.

Those of you going "Ppbbth, Caramels! I waited all week! Me want prizes!" I'll post the winner from last weeks giveaway of the big McCormick Halloween Goodie box too. Just zip down to the bottom of today's post.

For us candy makers, how about we get started on these apple cider caramels.

Now, just to be clear, "apple cider" around here is basically apple juice. I know it was wrong of us North Americans to adopt the term cider for a non-alcholic beverage, but we did it anyway. We just wanted to confuse everyone and I apologize. So just to be completely clear, we won't be using the fermented drink made from apples, no. Today we're working with a jug of fresh apple cider, which is essentially unfiltered apple juice. If you cannot get the fresh, cold pressed unfiltered stuff, go ahead and substitute the best quality/tasting apple juice you can find.

These caramels are a variation of my popular fleur de sel caramels, with a reduction of mulled apple cider. If you haven't tried them, you'll find that they're rich, smooth and far superior to those waxy squares you find in the supermarket.

They're not even terribly hard to make. Ninety percent of candy making is dumping ingredients into a pot and boiling away until done. Easy as pie. No, easier than pies. Provided you know when the candy is done. That's the key: knowing exactly when to pull the pot off the heat so your taffy doesn't turn into toffee. This makes a candy thermometer necessary. (Unless of course you're a pro at the cold water test. In which case, gold star for you.)

Since they're so helpful, it is worth taking a moment to talk about our friend, the candy/deep frying thermometer.

You should periodically check your thermometers accuracy. After all it does get dropped, jostled in drawers and occasionally run it through the dishwasher (a no-no). Or maybe your 3 year old used it for an hour to punch holes in a cardboard box "rocket ship".

Anyway, stuff happens, you get the idea. Often they come straight out of their packaging a little wonky, so it is worth testing.

To check your thermometer, stick it into an inch and a half of rapidly boiling water.  At sea level, pure unsalted boiling water tops out at 212°F (On top of a mountain? Get your boiling point here), your thermometer should climb to that temperature and stay there. If it reads higher than that, your thermometer is off and you may want to consider a replacement.  If it is only a minor deviation and you're good at math, remember the number of degrees off and take that into consideration when using it.

If your thermometer reads too low, then there are a few likely reasons:
  1. It can't read with only an inch and a half of the probe submerged, it reads somewhere higher up. I'm usually quite annoyed by these thermometers and have owned many. In the end, the only way to deal with it is to periodically tilt the sugar solution while boiling to cover the probe so it can give you an accurate reading. It's dangerous and I don't recommend doing it. I recommend finding another thermometer. 
  2. The thermometer is simply off by a few degrees. That's okay it happens, these are not always precision instruments.  Again, you can either replace it or remember the number of degrees off and take that into consideration when cooking with it. 
  3. You're living on a mountain top and haven't yet realized it. Surprise! Double check your altitude and the corresponding boiling point. You'll need to knock that boiling point difference off the caramel temperature too. This is usually -2°F for +1000ft.

Ms. Humble's Spiced Apple Cider Caramels
yields roughly 81 1" caramels
2 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons mulling spices*
2 cups pure cane sugar
1 1/2 cup heavy cream,  I'm using 40% ultra heavy
1 cup corn syrup**
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch kosher salt

* I'm using William Sonoma mulling spices. A mixture of cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice berries and citrus peel
** No corn syrup? See this post for what to (and what not to) substitute.  However, since we're already adding a lot of fructose from the apple syrup, I would recommend using a glucose syrup as your interfering agent.

Start by combining the mulling spices and apple cider in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a low boil and allow to simmer for roughly 20 minutes. Once the liquid has reduced to a 1/2 cup, strain and discard the spices, then set the spiced apple syrup aside.

Prepare a 9 x 9 pan by lining it with lightly buttered parchment.

In a large heavy sauce pan combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and one cup of the heavy cream. Place over medium heat and stirring frequently with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, bring the mixture to a boil. This will take some time. Don't be tempted to turn up the heat, candy requires patience.

Once the mixture boils add the remaining half cup of cream and the apple syrup in a slow trickle so your caramel mixture continues to boil uninterrupted. Allow the mixture to boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Then add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each piece melts. Wash down the sides of the pot with a damp pastry brush as needed.

Now clip on your candy thermometer and allow to boil over medium/medium-low heat until the mixture just hits 255°F. This should take about 30 minutes, if your temperature is climbing too quickly you might need to reduce the heat. By the same token, if you're not hitting 255°F by 40 minutes you might want to increase the heat a bit.

Once you've hit the right temperature, quickly remove the pot from the heat and pour into your prepared pan. Don't scrape the pot. Allow the caramel to cool completely before lifting the caramel slab from the pan using the parchment.

(Tip: If you notice tiny beads of butter on top of your caramel, don't fret. Just lightly blot them off with a paper towel.  This is usually from pouring the caramel into the buttered pan, not from the caramel separating (though that can happen if the candy crystalizes).

Cut the caramel slab into small pieces using a sharp buttered knife.  To avoid any arrgh-caramel-sticking-to-knife-headaches, I recommend using a sawing motion, pushing lightly with your buttered knife blade. Wrap each piece in a square of parchment. Store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Enjoy and don't forget to share!

Now for the McCormick Giveaway! The winner of the goodie box is...
Cahanbury of

cahanbury said...
I really want to eat these. My favorite is a day-old cake doughnut with a chocolate glaze. I know...cake doughnuts already taste stale, but there ya go.
Congrats! Please email me your mailing address to and I'll have the box delivered to you asap.

Until next time!


  1. I love apple cider! My mom used to make a big crock-pot of the mulled stuff for the holidays, and she'd leave it on the counter with a big ladle, so we kids could help ourselves whenever we passed by. :)
    This may just be the perfect way to revisit those days, and stir up the holiday spirit! Your caramels are beautiful and look SO delicious! Definitely adding them to the "to-make" list!

  2. I am thrilled to see this post Ms Humble! I made quite a few batches of your Fleur de Sel caramels last year and they were a huge, delicious success. I had already decided to make some more to serve at this year's work Christmas party... but I'll definitely be making these instead (or perhaps as well...).

    Thank you! :) Katie x

  3. I want to try making candy! Suppose I'll have to acquire a candy thermometer. Are there any you recommend?

  4. I lurk around reading your amazing posts and looking in awe at what you make. I just have to say you are truly awesomely amazing. Just read about corn syrup - and I UNDERSTAND!! As a chocolatier, (possibly ex; definitely amateur) much of what you say here has helped me to understand why certain things have happened (or not!) in my chocolating in the past.
    Thank you so much,

  5. Corvustristis,

    There are several I could recommend but my favorite right now is a CND probe that has taken a serious beating over the past year and still manages to give me an accurate temperatures.

    CDN White Combo Probe Digital Thermometer and Timer is the exact model. It is getting harder to find since it is an older model now (I bought mine over a year ago), but it works great. It is a great all-purpose thermometer and I use the long probe for roasting, grilling, frying and candy making.

  6. Okay it took me a while to read your full post, simply because I was busy clapping my hands when I saw the title and don't have a third hand to use the mouse. I need to make these!!!

  7. I don't usually eat candies but looking at these pictures I really want to eat them. lol.

  8. Wow, those look some good. AND i just bought me a thermometer!

  9. These look gorgeous. I am absolutely going to put them on my to-make list.

  10. I made these last night, and they were tasty as promised... I find it interesting how the caramel flavor is very forward, and then the cider lingers on the tongue after.

    I do, however, have a problem. The same problem as when I made your caramel-wrapped marshmallows last year. The same problem that always happens when I fall for the trap of making individually wrapped candies...

    How do you wrap them? What is your secret? I tried parchment, I tried stretch wrap, and I tried cellophane, and all were an enormous pain to use. I spend more time wrapping candies than making them.

    Perhaps I am using the wrong material. Your parchment looks much more "crinkly" than mine -- none of the materials I tried short of the stretch wrap would hold a twist. The others I had to laborously fold and tape. Please tell me your secret!

  11. When I brought these to work this morning, everyone wanted the recipe!

    I wonder if one could substitute other flavors for the 1/2 c. of reduced and spiced apple cider? Perhaps praline liquor...

    I cut squares of waxed paper for the wrapping and it worked great.

    An unrelated message last Friday got me to your cite for the whipped cream cheese frosting and I am a complete fan. I read most of your posts over the weekend and have already made these caramels and the pumpkin cake (also delicious!).

    Your blog is awesome and I look forward to reading your next entry and making another wonderful treat to share.

  12. jered,

    The secret: Wilton parchment.

    It does have a unique texture and it is the best I've found for wrapping candies. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to cutting and wrapping the candies--save for buying pre cut candy wrappers, which you can find online--it is always a bit of a time sink.

    I do my best to bribe others into helping me (usually with caramel) when I have multiple batches of candies to wrap. The chore is a lot more fun when someone else is doing it with you.


    I'm very happy you enjoyed the caramel and the cake.

    As for substitutions, it depends. Candy making is as much chemistry as cooking. Apple juice is a simple substitution in a caramel recipe since it is pretty much sugar and water and the flavor can handle the heat. You can experiment with making other similar syrup reductions to add, but understand that when you start adding other ingredients all sorts of things can happen in that pot. Any proteins will undergo the maillard reaction. Certain flavors change or dissipate with heat. Some substances will encourage crystallization, or prevent the candy from setting, or absorb moisture from the atmosphere...and so on, you get the idea.

    Would I try it? Oh yea, I would. First thing I would attempt would be the syrup, if the flavor of the syrup was still true and good after heating and reduction, then I would try experimenting with adding it to the caramels.

  13. Wow! I had no idea about the chemistry you explained so well. I was thinking liquid=liquid, but I see now that is not the case. I know this is why I like your blog so much. It is more than a recipe but an instruction as well (ala Alton Brown, one of our shared favorites :-).

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. I will share with you the results of any experiments I try, now following your advice.

    Give those little Humbles a big hug for me.

  14. Hello!
    I have literally just finished making the caramels and have just poured them into my tin to cool. I have noticed a lot of bubbles on the top, is that normal or have I done something that has caused it?
    I couldn't get corn syrup so used golden syrup instead. (I live in the uk and couldn't find it in two supermarkets I went to).
    Love your website, I only found it last week and think its great.

  15. That's it! Apple cider AND caramels? I'd like to immediately request we make this the official food of the planet.

  16. Hi there :)
    Quick question. I was about to buy apples for the juice when i realized that i have no idea if the accidity of the juice or its sweetmess for the matter have any significance. Putting it simple. What if i get a really sour juice or alternatively - very sweet juice? Which one is better? Shall i re-calculate the amount of sugar somehow?

  17. Marinag,

    There isn't any need to adjust the sugar content in the recipe based on the sweetness of the juice. Once the sugar concentrates and the water evaporates, caramel pretty much works itself out.

    As for picking a juice or apple, pick one with a lot of flavor and don't give too much mind to the sugar content (It is pretty high regardless of sweetness).

  18. I cannot wait to make these! Is there a difference between standard granulated sugar and pure cane sugar?

  19. Granulated sugar = pure cane sugar, if it is made from sugar cane. The other type of common granulated sugar is made from sugar beets (the ingredients list will tell you which the sugar is made from). Most candy makers agree that cane sugar works best for candymaking. You can use beet sugar for the caramels, it will still do the job. So whatever sugar you have onhand is okay, however pure cane is the best choice if you have it.

  20. In our family we have our grandfather's cider press and every fall we get together and smush about 50# of assorted apples (and sometimes we throw in some cranberries just for fun and color). If we hadn't drunk it all up by now I would definitely use some for these. Next year!

  21. Just dropping by to say hello! Pray all is well with you and your little ones, Ms. H! :)

  22. Have made these this evening Ms Humble. Your instructions for caramel making is super simple and easy to follow (yet again) - thank you.

    Perhaps its because the house smells deliciously like cloves and cinnamon, but I can't really taste the apple flavour in the caramel. I'll taste it again (several times) tomorrow and see if I can taste it more. Still delicious! If I can't taste the appley-flavour, then I'll top each little square with a bit of vanilla salt I bought at my local spice shop. Yummy!

    Thank you. Marshmallow time now...

  23. Also Ms Humble, in this recipe you say 255 degrees, but in the other two caramels (for the marshmallow wraps and salted butter caramels) only 250 degrees. I just went to eat the left overs out of the pot but its solidified... I am sure the main dish of caramel will be perfect (fingers crossed). I did do the thermometer test last year - is 5 degrees enough to make much difference?

  24. The cider flavor isn't a intense one, you'll taste the buttery caramel first and then the apple and spice as the caramel fades. Jered was correct in his assessment above: "I made these last night, and they were tasty as promised... I find it interesting how the caramel flavor is very forward, and then the cider lingers on the tongue after. "

    Naturally, starting with a flavorful apple juice helps a great deal.

    As for temperature it was adjusted to account for the changes the syrup made to the final caramel.

    The recipe went through several iterations and because it was a hair softer and stickier than my ordinary caramel at 250, I upped the temperature 5 degrees to make it a bit easier to work with. All the batches at 255 had a better mouthfeel and were easier to cut (though still stickier on the knife than plain caramels).

    I used two different freshly calibrated thermometers when tooling the recipe, just to be sure I was advising a correct temperature for the caramel, since candy making is so finicky.

    If the caramel is solid, as in hard-candy solid (or even Sugar-daddy chewy firm) then the caramel got too hot and it would be worth double checking the thermometer. A lot can happen in a year. Even going over by another 5 degrees shouldn't make the caramel hard, it would perhaps be unpleasantly chewy, but it shouldn't turn into a Werther's original.

  25. You're certainly right when you say that a lot can happen in a year - perhaps my memory of last year's caramels has faded a little... Anyway, this morning I cut up these little beauties and they are just gorgeous. This batch is a teensy bit harder than the few batches of salted butter caramels I made last Christmas, but certainly not unpleasant - chewy and buttery and yum.

    The apple juice I used was quite mild and thus the resulting flavour is virtually imperceptible (to me). My taste-test friend thought she could taste it. Next time (there will be a next time) I think I am going to ramp up the apple and the spices.

    I'm looking forward to more Christmassy posts Ms Humble - thanks!

  26. Hello Mrs Humble,

    Love these caramels and would like to make them but my grocery store only sells regular whipping cream at 33% fat. Can I use this instead of the 40%? If not, where could I find cream with this high fat content?


  27. B,

    35% is fine and will work just fine but 40%+ is best. The 40%+ ultra cream is found at costco, and other similar stores that sell in bulk. You can also find it at stores that offer supplies for cooking/baking/food service.


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