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Nov 1, 2005 08:42 PM

caramel apple report

  • s

Well, I besmirched the good name of Martha Stewart when funwithfood suggested her caramel apple recipe. I insisted that since I could make caramel, the only thing martha provided me was a reliable temp to take the mixture to, thereby guaranteeing (roughly) that you would achieve an end product that was neither too runny, nor too brittle, but, in the words of a little bear (or was it a piggie?), just right.

hah! karmic revenge was reaked upon me on Friday night when I decided to test this theory. I didn't have much time (as is the case with all of my cooking these days), so I pulled out the recipe I created the last time I made caramel. It was woefully short on details (no temp to bring hot liquid to, just a rough description of color). I still figure I can do it, and get going.

Put roughly 2cups sugar in pan with roughly 1/2 cup water, bring to boil, boil off water and watch it bubble along. I start to worry, what if the temp isn't right? I leave pot on stove (not too hot a temp, bubbling along), go grab McGee, search for reference on temp to make caramel. Discover there is some variation in the use of the word caramel. Curse. Stick in thermometer. It's already above 240 (Martha's recommended temp). But it doesn't look dark enough. But 240 seems to be the temp McGee is suggesting. Or not? Curse some more. It goes up to roughly 285. I remember to add a Tb or so of corn syrup to try to prevent crystallization. Doesn't look dark enough, but I'm struggling.

Hell, I decide it's roughly $1 worth of ingredients (although this is my only shot, as I'm out of sugar), and I might as well move forward. I put in roughly 1/2 cup heated cream plus 2-3Tb butter (also heated). It bubbles furiously as I stir. It looks, well, uninspiring. I add some vanilla and a bit of lemon juice. It doesn't look any more inspired than before, and i begin to worry about crystallization.

I had taken a bit of advice from Martha and had a waiting bain marie so that I could keep caramel at a decent temp. Pot is in bain marie. I decide to try dunking an apple. The photo below is the one and only attempt at applying caramel to an apple. (Remember how I said I don't have much time? I neglected to buy sticks to put in apples for dipping, so was relying on my supply of forks). You'll note, it's a bit weak on the caramelized sugar end of things. Decent (not great) thickness (smidge too runny, definitely not to brittle). Minimal flavor. Even SO (who LOVES sweets) notes that it is weak on caramel flavor. Sigh.

The linked photo was my thought that maybe I could salvage the effort into caramels. (NB: it didn't work--crystallized sugar resulted.)

Perhaps I need to reconsider my friend, Martha? Problem is, I don't like recipes that are too loaded upon corn syrup, which is the way I perceive hers. All advice appreciated.



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  1. for those who are curious about Martha's recipe...


    2 Replies
    1. re: Smokey

      You crack me up! No wonder you thought the caramel didn't look right, it was clear!

      (If you added red food coloring, you could have had candied apples!)

      1. re: Funwithfood

        Actually, if you look at the photo that I linked to (not the one posted in my OP), you'll see that in a pan, it wasn't clear. It was light colored for caramel, but it wasn't clear. It looks clear on the apple because it wasn't thick enough (mind you, no thickness of application was going to solve my caramel problem!).

        Guess I just need to keep trying to make caramel :)

    2. Caramel kills me. Here is the usual scenario:

      Stir the sugar and water until it's dissolved. Stop stirring. Start worrying. Sugar is boiling, worry that heat is too high, turn it down. 10 minutes has passed, no sign of color, decide it needs heat to brown, turn heat up. Sugar is really boiling, turn it down. 20 minutes has past w/ no sign of color, turn it up. Worry about crystals, brush down side of pan. Note that brush is now one big sugar clump. Turn down heat. Sugar begins to form a small crust across the top of pan through which the bubbles break. Finally leave the heat alone fatalistically, and watch until the whole pan becomes a mass of re-hardening sugar. Dump down the sink. Note that I have been screwing with the sugar for 45 minutes and never saw one hint of caramel color. Wonder if the heat was too high or too low. Make something else.

      8 Replies
      1. re: danna

        LMAO! Yeah, that about describes this experience, with breaks for 'consult McGee, consult thermometer, wonder how I did it last time, because last time they turned out just fine.'

        My only comfort is the knowledge that it's 2 cups of sugar--what did that set me back, 50 cents?

        1. re: danna

          My recommendation: Stop worrying. Put the heat on medium high. After the sugar is dissolved, let it cook. Leave it alone. I don't even bother with washing down the sugar crystals - I wait until the there's a good boil, cover it tightly for about 30 seconds, and let the steam take care of it. Then I wait. When it starts to get brown, a nice tan color, I start swirling it a bit. When it gets pretty dark, I wait a bit more. When it gets very dark, but not blackened, I take it off the heat and shock it by placing the pot in a pan of cold water. Then I add stuff if I'm adding stuff, cream or butter or what have you.

          But really, it's not that fussy. I've successfully made caramel over a campfire, by flashlight, when quite drunk.

          The sugar syrup, by the way, will first bubble up enormously, then subside and make only big, slow bubbles as the mixture thickens. Only after it's gone through both stages will it get hot enough to start to actually caramelize. But 1) you don't need a thermometer and 2) it should probably get much darker than you think. When it's in the pan, it will look dark than it is, because the liquid will be in a thick layer (Imagine laying several amber sheets of glass on top of one another; the color would be darker than each of the sheets alone.)


          1. re: curiousbaker

            "I've successfully made caramel over a campfire, by flashlight, when quite drunk."

            Cool. I have a hard time making salad when I get trashed at the campfire. What did you do with the campfire-caramel?

            About how long should it take to start to color?

            I have actually made caramel successfully over the years, but success is random to me. Sometimes it just won't color. I have had a bit more consistent success since Alton Brown told me the cover the pot trick you mentioned, and the add a teaspoon of corn syrup trick. Still, I can generally expect to throw out about 50% of my attempts.

            Thanks, I'll start w/ med hi and leave it there next time.

            1. re: danna

              A bit of corn syrup definitely helps, particularly if your ultimate aim is a chewy caramel candy, rather than just hard caramelized sugar or a caramel sauce. Chewy caramel isn't easy, because you have to get the proportions just right and you don't want it to sugar, but you do want it to get firm-ish. But plain old caramelized sugar isn't hard. I wonder about the not-coloring thing, because I've never had that happen. I've burned it a couple times, and at least once had it crystallize, but never had it fail to color.

              As for the timing, it all depends on how much you are making, how heavy you pan is, and how much water you added, so it's really hard to say. But the temperature of sugar rises very, very slowly once it gets up around 220. That's why making soft or hard candy can take forever. But because you're going for color with caramel anyway, you can throw the heat up higher, so it usually goes faster.

              The campfire caramel: I added bananas, some leftover campfire coffee and some Parmalat to make a sort of bananas-in-caramel sauce. It was really good. At least it seemed so to me at the time. I may not have been particularly, um, discerning...


              1. re: curiousbaker

                >>Chewy caramel isn't easy, because you have to get the proportions just right and you don't want it to sugar, but you do want it to get firm-ish.

                Ah-ha! It's harder than I thought! This makes me feel better about my kinda glazed looking caramel apple. (It's a somewhat cold comfort, seeing as how it doesn't put a caramel apple in my mouth, but I'll take it where I can get it!)

                1. re: smokey

                  The best book for explaining the ins and outs of this sort of candy-making, IMO, is the unfortunately-named-but-very-well-researched Oh, Fudge. I'm pretty sure she has a candy-apple caramel - I'll take a look tonight and post tomorrow. But it's a book worth having if you're interested in fudge, fondant, caramel, toffee, taffy, marshmallow and all that good stuff. (If a recall correctly, she only covers those candies with a relationship to fudge, like those I mentioned - not chocolates or lollipops or other such.)


                  1. re: curiousbaker

                    Let me count the ways I love inter-library loan!

                    Thanks for the rec, curiousbaker. I anticipate I'll have a copy of it in my hot little hands before apple season is done. (And, better still, some marshmallow recipes to perhaps play with!)

                    1. re: Smokey

                      Even I have not f'ed up marshmallows. Enjoy!

        2. I know I keep beating this dead horse but you cannot make decent caramel without 100% pure cane sugar. The cheap sugar, not labled pure cane is beet sugar and won't get you where you want to go.

          Use a heavy bottomed pan or cast iron skillet, I don't bother adding water but you can if you want. I just put the heat at medium and start watching it. I have never used a thermometer to make it and if you are patient the sugar will start to melt and darken. Just keep that heat at medium, I don't stir until it starts to take on color, and then be careful it can go from a nice rich caramel to burned very quickly. When it has reached the color you desire put the pan in your sink and add the butter and cream, protection against boil overs.

          If you feel the need to add syrup of some sort use Steen's or Lyle's cane syrups.

          Oh and another thing, if you use one of those plastic coated racks in the bottom of your snk as I do, remove it before putting the hot pan in the sink. I neglected to do that last week and melted the plastic on to the bottom of one of my Calphalon saucepans. Luckily I was able to scrape off the melted plastic but it also menat i was making a trip to Bed Bath etc. for a new rack.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Candy

            Candy--thanks for the feedback (seems sensible to accept feedback on caramel from poster with moniker Candy!). Trust me, it was pure cane sugar. Problem wasn't the sugar, it was the cook!


            1. re: Candy

              I wonder if this is a regional thing. Since you have been "beet"ing that horse, i have been checking the lables on sugar at the store. I can't find ANY beet sugar. A quick google seems to indicate that sugar beets aren't grown in the South. Hmmm.

              Also, do you think that cane syrup would have the same effect on caramel making as corn syrup? I thought the whole point was to add a different molecular structure to the mix. Would cane syrup be diff. from cane granules once they are heated?

              Just asking, God knows I've proved I'm no expert (or even competent) with confectionery.

              1. re: danna

                The sugar that is beet sugar, will not be labled beet sugar. It is just labled sugar. So if you were in Kroger and bought their house brand instead of Domino or C&H which are both labled pure cane, you are getting beet sugar.

                1. re: Candy

                  Since you've been bringing this up, I've looked at quite a few bags of sugar, and have yet to find one that isn't labeled "pure cane sugar." There may be regional differences; I've no idea what Kroger's is.

                  1. re: curiousbaker

                    Kroger is a large mid-western grocery chain like Safeway, Price Chopper, Grand Union, Piggy Wiggly, Pathmark, Albertsons or whatever large grocery chain you have in your area.

                    You are fortunate to be only getting the good stuff.

                    1. re: Candy

                      Once I HAD to buy sugar at a Winn-Dixie and they only had their house brand. I needed the sugar to make some simple Christmas cookies at my in-laws place in Fla. (Can you imagine no Christmas cookies not to mention a cupboard without sugar???)

                      Anyway, I hated that stupid sugar but couldn't really put my finger on why. I never even would have thought to "evaluate" the sugar but I couldn't help noticing it performed poorly in sugar cookies and peanut brittle. Now I'm betting it was beet sugar.

            2. p

              Call me lazy, but I buy a bag or two of Kraft caramels, unwrap the individual wrappers and place the little squares into a double boiler. Bring up temperature until they melt, cool slightly, dunk apples and then roll in nuts, coconut, mini-chips, etc. This time of year, most caramel bags come with sticks included in the bag. My family has been doing it this way for years and they taste great.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pilotgirl210

                nah, i don't think you're lazy. I just wanted to DIY. Chacun a son gout!

              2. Thanks so much for your detailed report and photo, smokey! (Keep the photos coming.) I'm glad one of us followed through on the caramel apples. Sorry you weren't rewarded though...

                Before I attempt Martha's recipe, I'm really, really wondering: Do you or others think that 240F isn't really hot enough to get the right caramelization? I'm worried that I'll have a similar problem except that I'll have Martha's ingredients thrown in.

                Thermometers can be helpful, but sometimes they're just a PIA and can screw me up. My fried chicken always turns out better when I don't fuss w/ a thermometer.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Ok, never having tried her recipe...

                  I actually think there is a good chance that it is hot enough. I think the significant difference in the 'proper' temp for what I was trying and her recipe is because her recipe isn't simply 'heat sugar until it caramelizes and throw other stuff in'. There's a load of other stuff in there (e.g. the condensed milk) that I think would alter the temp at which you would get proper consistency caramel.

                  On a side note, I agree with you about the thermometer being a PIA. I fault myself totally for ruining this by spending too much time looking at the thermometer (which i didn't start out using, but threw in mid-boil) and cursing over McGee. The last time I made caramel (from my self-same home-made recipe), I just watched it until it got brown enough. I was being a weenie about the consistency issue.

                  P.S. Thanks for the photo appreciation. I really took my inspiration from you having posted so many photos (although mine are lacking in your level of styling, I was still really pleased!).

                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    Any hotter with the MS recipe and you will have to go to the dentist for TMJ! (I know from experience)

                    Actually, her recipe calls for 236 degrees, but that was way too soft. I start checking (ice water method) at 238 degrees--239-240 seems to be right on.