my usual mass christmas gift

Years ago, my sister-in-law and I started making candy apples to give away as Christmas presents. It all started because we saw here and here that candy apples go for ridiculous amounts of money, and we thought, Hell we can do that.

Because it is totally doable, as long as you have refrigerator space (or the right weather - more on that below), counter space, and ample time on your hands.

When every Christmas season rolls around, I make my list of recipients, the Chosen Ones. Last year I overdid it to the extreme. I made around 30-something apples, and gave one to each of my coworkers and a bunch of other people who, in retrospect, didn't deserve one. And yes, I was a complete nut, and apparently had too much time on my hands. This year, the list is not nearly so long (and I have very little free time for extracurricular activities); most of the recipients are the boy's coworkers. This year, Mrs B decided to play along as well, and she has made her list of her Chosen Few who will receive an apple.

Making these isn't particularly hard, nor is it very expensive ... at least for me it's not because I tend to have a rather large chocolate and baking candy stash on hand and buy supplies throughout the year. In fact, the most expensive item for this grocery bill will be the apples. This year, I went to the Super H and walked around the produce section, scrutinizing all their apples. I decided to use the Fuji variety out of Washington, because they were the largest and prettiest I could find. next, I inspected each apple. you don't really want one with blemishes, although you'll be coating it so it doesnt really matter what color the skin of the apple is. but I do try to pick out the very best ones I can find. I picked each one up and checked it for bruising, for critter entry (e.g. worm holes), for smell. the boy was with me and ran off to do the rest of the produce shopping while I stood there picking out the Very Best apples I could find. don't be rushed doing this, either. this is really the main ingredient, after all, so you want to find the best ones. some years i've use Granny Smith's, and the combination of chocolate and tart green apple is really good - but the Fujis were calling to me this year.

next step is to wash your apples and take off any stickers they might have. I use Veggie Wash, because i've had the bottle for ages, but you could just as easily rub the outside of the apples with baking soda and water. This step is crucial, because caramel will not stick well at all if the apple still has its waxy coating. you really should wash all your fruit and veggies anyway.

while you're letting the apples air dry, you want to start on the caramel. you can do one of two things - make your own or buy those individually wrapped caramels from the candy aisle at the grocery. As much as I like making caramel, the store bought caramels have been my go-to for this project. I would prefer to make my own caramel, seeing as you control the ingredients, but sometimes I feel a bit odd making a large vat of caramelly napalm on the stove. {One day I was cooking barefoot and a drop, a mere drop of caramel fell and hit in between two of my toes. it was one of the worst pains i've ever felt. moral of the story? wear shoes when cooking}. The instructions on the side of the caramel bag says that one bag is enough to coat five apples. well, I don't know how much crack they smoke. I'm lucky if I can coat three apples out of one bag. Depending on the size of your apple and how thick a coating you put on will depend on how many bags of caramel you'll need. For the seventeen apples we made this year, we used six bags of caramel.

Unwrap each caramel and put it in a large saucepan. I've even used the slow cooker for this step, especially those years when i've made a lot of these. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and heat on low to medium low, while stirring and keeping an eye on it so as not to burn the bottom.

When all the caramels have melted, it's time to move on to the next step.

grab a couple of cookie sheets and line them in parchment; set aside. those little wooden sticks that come in the caramel bags? don't throw out, but save those for later. The apples are so big and will get so heavy, that the sticks will not hold them throughout the process. I use the sticks for decoration only, at the end. For now, take a fork and plunge it into the top of the apple. It helps if you have many forks. we used almost every fork we had in the house. then plunge the apple into the vat o' caramel, using a spoon to cover the areas which aren't getting dipped. Set the apple straight up on the cookie sheet and move on to the next one.

Normally, when I make these, it's about 40 degrees F outside. Last year, I kept my apples in the garage because it was fridge-like in temperature, perfect for storing apples temporarily, because before you move on to the next step, the caramel has to cool. The consistency of this caramel is between hard and soft, so it won't get totally rock-hard on your apple; but you also don't want it to be too soft and gooey. It has to stay put.

So we covered all of our apples on sunday, put them in my garage to wait for the next coating, which we planned on doing Monday night.

However....

Monday afternoon, I got home from work and the house was hot. We're getting hit with unseasonably warm weather here in the ATL - and hitting record high temperatures. Insane. My first thought was to check on the apples, and oh my.

They still had some caramel on them, but the majority had melted and pooled around the base of each apple. I brought them into the kitchen and thought about what to do next.

Mrs B came over, and we brainstormed a bit. Neither one of us felt like making caramel or running to the store for caramels, so we washed our hands really well and carved off the caramel around the base of each apple to remelt. You will make a mess, you will get sticky, you can put food-safe gloves on if you want (but it's actually easier with bare hands). But this is fun, really. Think of it as fun! after remelting (and a lot of giggling), we took the forks out, drizzled the caramel over the apples and immediately put these into the fridge to cool. Problem solved.

While these were cooling, I fished around in the right hand side cabinet of my kitchen island to see what stuff i'd been stashing in there throughout the year, and came out with several bags of milk chocolate-peanut butter chips, Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips, and Heath bar toffee pieces. Gold! We mixed the milk chocolate-peanut butter chips with the semi-sweet chips, and put those to melt over a double-boiler.

Then, we ladled the chocolate onto the apples. I've dunked the apples into the chocolate before, so you can either do this; or put the chocolate into a squeeze bottle and channel your innner Jackson Pollock. the problem that I have with the squeeze bottles is that they tend to stop up all the time, and they're a pain in the ass to clean afterwards, so i'm always trying to figure out a new way to coat these suckers. We ladled the chocolate on each apple and spread it around the sides, and let it cool slightly before pressing Heath bar bits into the sides. Put the wooden sticks into the top of each apple, and then back into the fridge for another short slumber. And as you can see, i'm no real food snob. Country Crock (which, actually, i never use, it's the boy's), Publix brand egg nog, and a containter full of baked Pillsbury cinammon rolls sitting next to a baggie of haricots verts.

You can stop here if you'd like, or melt some white chocolate and with a fork (or squeeze bottle) produce some amazing looking modern art all over the apples (and your kitchen).

I package them up in treat bags from Michaels or Joann's, although if you're using the larger apple, you will have to find the Large Size treat bag, which can sometimes be hard to find. I couldnt find any this year at my usual haunts, so I paid a little extra for them at the Container Store (along with some absolutely gorgeous Christmas wrapping paper that my mom will adore). Tie a ribbon around the top, put a name tag on it if you want and give away. I would store these in the fridge (if you have room) or some other chilly area in your house until they're ready to give away to the mailman, your favorite coworker, your kid's teacher.

In years past, i've used Granny Smiths and rolled them in chopped peanuts and chopped M & Ms. it would also be nice to use a coconut white chocolate (Lindt makes some) and then roll in toasted coconut. Basically, your options are limitless here. these are fun to make, and people love to get them (well, except for my director last year, who probably threw it away). And there is absolutely no point in plopping down 22 bucks from Williams-Sonoma, unless you want it to be "perfect" looking. In the case of these apples, it's not a bad thing if they look totally whacked out, imperfect, and built up in candy.

Next year, Mrs B and I are going to buy inexpensive forks (or find them at yard sales) and just keep the forks in the apples when we give them away. There is something very satisfying-looking about that top picture, with the forks jutting out of the top of the apples (with laundry in the background). I'm just not willing to give up my good flatware this year.

Comments

Emily Brannen said…
It was so much fun! I cannot wait to give them away! :)

Also, according to wikipedia, candied apples have a hard candy coating. I knew there was a slight difference!
Ann said…
Very cool. And such a fun read, too!

Ann at Redacted Recipes
Karyn said…
Mmm. I love caramel apples. It's crazy that something so simple can sell for so much - it's not like they're dipping apples in shaved black truffle. Yet.

I love your rustic aesthetics, too. Homemade things should look homemade. Or at least that's how I pass off my "lack of skills" as "charm."
Margrethe said…
Your note about using thrift-store forks for the apple sticks next year just gave me a great idea.

Why not have the stick be part of the gift?

For Valentine's Day, I'm going to make caramel apples for gifts and use a pair of the lovely decorated chopsticks I see in Asian stores in place of the stick in each one.

And I'm going to go crazy decorating with chocolate on the caramel.

I'm going to trackback these comments in case anyone else has good ideas about stick replacements that would make good gifts.
french tart said…
margrethe, your idea of chopsticks is really great. i'm going to keep that in mind for next year!

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