Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Treats without the Tricks: Honey Caramel Apples

I look forward to this holiday every year. Maybe it’s the walk around the neighborhood in costume, knocking on doors and with a squeaky voice shouting “Trick or treat!” My most memorable years were the times I dressed as Odette from The Swan Princess (Mama Dazz made the costume), the Pink Power Ranger, and a black cat. Sure, I celebrated more Halloweens than those three, but I remember them because those were the years of suburbia, where practically every house gave candy by the handfuls and there was a haunted house on every street. Like other munchkins under the age of seven, I was always afraid of the haunted houses, especially when the front yard of the house at the top of the hill became a graveyard for the undead. But for two or three hours on Halloween, kids are empowered to honor their costumes and face their fears. After all, nothing bad happens to a princess, and no one would dare attack one of the Power Rangers. And black cats own the night, so I was safe that year.

After high school, however, Halloween started to shift in regards to priority. I mean, why walk around all evening for candy you could buy half price the next day? And the costumes for tween girls and older seem to have become something different than I remember them being. I think know I’m too old to go trick or treating, but I have taken on the responsibility of giving out candy every time munchkins come to our door.

I must admit, though, I do miss the Halloween of my childhood, and that does include the ungodly amount of sugar, artificial coloring, and chocolate. For years my favorite candy was the eyeball gumball, though it became hard to find after a time. And when I moved to an international neighborhood, fewer and fewer houses celebrated the trick-or-treating tradition, I was slowly weaned from my once a year candy indulgence.

The word candy has changed since my gluten free lifestyle included soy, artificial anything, and refined sugar. Chocolate has become a little iffy for me, likely due to how it’s processed, so I’ve been using mesquite flour instead. But after making those gooey pepitas candy squares last week, my definition of candy has altered completely.

Candy doesn’t have to be artificially flavored, sweetened with HFCS, or gluten filled. It can be tasteful, healthy by candy standards, and delicious for munchkins and adult munchkins alike. I have become inspired, by the science of making candy and the turnouts of making candy. Sugarplums may not be dancing in my head, but honey sweetened chocolate bars, maple fruit juice lollipops, homemade white chocolate, and “candied” ginger are. My hopes for my children for this time of year are homemade delights, original costumes, and close-knit community Halloween fun. Until then, I just may do that for today’s kiddies, but by all means enjoy this certified gluten free candy list for tonight’s festivities.

So why am I talking about candy? Well, I made caramel apples… with honey. And after boiling over in a small saucepan and transferring the mixture and a half (because I boiled over, remember) to a slightly larger saucepan that I couldn’t heat up past 225ºF without going over, I finally found the right pot. So bear in mind, when they say size matters in candy making, they mean it. The recipe not only worked, it was amazing. It is rich, decadent, and had this butterscotch beginning with a caramel ending. I’m sure agave nectar and maple syrup would work wonders, and I’ll try again just in time for the winter holidays.

Who knows? Maybe candy canes are in the future. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Caramel Apples (recipe from Our Best Bites)

1 c. (252 g or < 8.9 oz) Honey
1 c. (240 g or 6.5 oz) Heavy whipping cream 
1/2 tsp. Bourbon vanilla
1/4 tsp. Sea salt

10 sm. Jazz apples (Trader Joe’s Small Apples for Small Hands)
10 skewers or popsicle sticks

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine cream, honey, and salt.
Once warmed and whisked together, bring to a rolling boil and reduce heat to a simmer (it should still be bubbling, but not so hot that is splatters all over).
Stir and scrape sides of pot down occasionally until a candy thermometer reaches 260 degrees.
To reach 260ºF can take about 30 minutes, so while your caramel is cooking prepare your apples by washing and drying them and skewer them with a popsicle stick or bamboo skewer, then place in the fridge to continue chilling until ready to use.
Line a baking sheet or cutting board with waxed paper or parchment paper and set aside.
When caramel has reached 260ºF, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally (It should start thickening).

(You’ll have to eyeball the consistency for dipping. If you’d like to help it along you can place your pot in a bowl of ice. And if it gets too hard to coat the apples, just return it to the heat until it’s thin again.)

Remove apples from fridge and dry them thoroughly with a towel.
Dip in caramel, rolling and twirling each one so it gets well coated.
Let excess drip off and then place on prepared sheet.
Refrigerate for 10-20 minutes to set the caramel and then enjoy!

Makes 10 caramel apples.

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