Friday, December 11, 2009

it's that time of year again


The boy hitches a ride to work every day with our friend Ken. Sometimes Ken has to leave early or go in late or whatever, which takes some creative scrambling on our part to get the boy around. Yesterday, Ken was leaving work early to go to his kid’s school play, so the boy bribed his boss into letting him leave early as well (it was either that or walk home from Stone Mountain, and I don’t know if you guys who are not living in the ATL know, but Stone Mountain is pretty far away from Alpharetta, where we live). So the boy calls me as they’re driving home to tell me that I need to make a candy apple later that night. And I’m all, DUDE.

You’re probably wondering what the big deal is, since I make these every single Christmas to give away to the Chosen Few (see here, here, and here). But this year I haven’t even begun to think about them yet. I mean, it’s only December 10th for crying out loud. Give me a week or so and I’ll get on it. plus, those things take a fair amount of shopping and mise en place. First, one must pick out The Right Apple. Secondly, one must scour the baking aisles of the grocery stores trying to find a good deal on quality ingredients. I’ve entertained the idea of making my own caramel for these things, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet; I normally buy bags of individually wrapped caramels and use those. But all that planning and shopping and assessing my chocolate stash takes time and effort. Plus I had already been to the grocery store yesterday and didn’t feel like going back out.

Fortunately, while assessing my baking goods stash (sitting on the kitchen floor digging through the right hand side cabinet of the kitchen island) I found three bags of caramel left over from last year. I always have a fair amount of chocolate on hand, as you never know when a batch of chocolate mousse or cookies need to be whipped up. I had a couple of Granny Smiths in the fruit bowl, so when the boy got home, I put him to work peeling the wrappers off of caramels and helping with melting the chocolate in a double boiler on the stove.

An overview of what you’ll need to do in order to produce a fancified candy apple:

1. Wash apple. This is a necessary step or the initial coating of caramel will just slip right off and pool at the bottom, and then you’ll be pissed. Wash with Veggie Wash or rub with a mixture of baking soda and water; rinse; let air dry.

2. Melt caramels in a saucepan with a tablespoon or so of water. Stir often. Do this on low heat and do not walk away. Trust me on this.

3. Those bags of caramels come with popsicle sticks, so use one of those to stick into the top of your apple. Making your own caramel and no popsicle stick? Improvise. Bamboo skewer (a sturdy one) or fork will do. Plunge it into the top of your apple securely. Dip apple into melted caramel mixture, using a spoon or rubber spatula to coat the apple evenly.

4. Place apple on a cookie sheet or plate or whatever flat dish you have that you’ve put a bit of parchment or silpat on. You want that apple to come back off in order to get to the next coating, so the parchment or silpat is crucial. Store in a cool place for a few minutes (fridge, outside, garage).

For this round, since I was only supposed to make the one apple, I double coated it by coating it once in caramel, letting that set in the fridge for a few minutes, then coating it again. Each bag of caramels should evenly coat 4 small apples, unless you’re double dipping. You don’t have to double dip them, but I had the extra, so I did.

5. Put apples back in the fridge/cool place for about an hour to ensure that final coat of caramel stays put.

6. After it’s rested, melt some chocolate chips in a double boiler (pyrex bowl over an inch of simmering water in a saucepan). You don’t necessarily have to use chocolate chips. I found a quarter bag of peanut butter chips lurking in my baking stash, so I melted some of those too in a separate bowl. In order to make the chocolate smooth, you may have to add just a teensy bit of canola or vegetable oil and stir with a rubber spatula. When melted, remove apple from fridge and dip it in the chocolate, coating with a rubber spatula or spoon. You could put the melted chocolate in a squeeze bottle and spray it on the apple that way. I’ve done all kinds of methods. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look pretty to you, because whoever is the recipient of this apple will think you’re the next coming of Martha Stewart and be totally freaked out by your craftiness.

7. Anyway, once you’ve coated the apple with whatever melted mixture you have, place it back on the flat dish and put into the fridge again until ready to bag and use. At this point, you can also roll the apple in chopped nuts or cover in M & Ms or chopped up candy. I happened to have some silver dragées lying around that I found for cheap at Fresh Market last year (I know! “cheap” is not usually associated with Fresh Market. I was lucky). So I coated the top of the apple with those.

A note about the bags to use. If you go to Party City or Joann’s or Michael’s to purchase the bags, do ensure you pick up the larger size. The regular sized bags that are labeled “treat bags” are too small to fit the apples in. Sometimes these larger bags take a bit of hunting down to acquire. I’ve bought them from the Container Store before, but only as a last resort when I couldn’t find them anywhere else – they are not cheap there. I found some colorful stripey larger treat bags at Joann’s a while back and bought all they had. Once you’ve gently stuck your apple in the bag, set bag upright and tie closed with some decorative ribbon or with the twisty tie that comes with it. keep in a cool place until ready to give.

I ended up making two apples last night since I had so much melted caramel that needed to be used up. One is for the boy’s boss, and the other is going to my friend Ryan who I’m going to see tonight (hi Ryan!) who didn’t know until now that she’s getting one today. She’ll get another later on when I end up making the 18 apples (plus or minus a few) that I originally planned on making sometime next week or the week after. Ryan and I are supposed to write a book together, and we will if I can ever get off my lazy ass and go see her.

above photo is fuzzy cos it was taken with my phone and then i messed with it in Photogene and probably made it too bright.

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