Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Halloween Horror

I had planned to share with you the happy adventures of dipping apples into gooey homemade caramel and luscious bright red sugar. When finished, the candy apples would glisten like rubies on the table while the rest would sit draped in an irresistible layer of soft, chewy caramel. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. I wanted a treat, but got a trick instead.

This is what should NOT happen when dipping caramel apples.
While I could just hide under a blanket and call myself a ghost, I’m going to be honest and share all the sticky details of my apple dipping horror show. Although often concealed in the spotlight, conveniently cut and edited until only the perfect parts are showing, kitchen mishaps happen to all of us—sometimes even despite the most valiant of efforts. This is how we learn.

Lined up on their wooden sticks, I had ten apples prepared for the plunge: five were destined to be candy coated, while the other five would go for a swim in the caramel. (P.S. Finding sticks was a project in itself; after searching through several grocery stores, I ended up buying an instant caramel apple kit just for the sticks inside.)

The recipes for each of the sugary shellacs made enough for twelve apples so I cut both of them in half. As they bubbled away on the stove, it seemed as though things were going smoothly. Not for long: ending with a sink full of sticky pots, a melted spatula and enough frustration fuming out of me to liquefy another, my fun fall project had suddenly morphed into an all-out Halloween nightmare. Insert: blood curling scream.

Homemade caramel-dipped apples had been on my mind since coming across Alice’s recipe on her blog, Someone Who Bakes. I could already taste the creamy caramel that was engulfing each of the apples in her photos and immediately bookmarked the recipe. Check out the post here to see how these should come out. While cooking the caramel it looked just as it ought to; stirring away, I imagined light strings of caramel floating behind my apple lollipop as I pulled away from each bite. If only…

After pouring the caramel out to cool, I realized that something was wrong. It was getting too hard too fast. Only a few apples had the chance to be dipped before the caramel refused to stick, just sliding off at every attempt. It tasted good though! Once set, it was like a rock—CRACK—the caramel shattered under the immense pressure that it took to even cut through it. I blame all of this on not having a candy thermometer. I thought I could get away with it, but when it comes to melting sugar to the proper temperature you can’t just wing it; a few degrees can make a big difference.

At least the candy apples came out decent. I ended up only having enough red sugar syrup to dip two of the intended five apples, but those lonely two looked pretty damn fine. Hard and sticky enough to potentially break teeth and crack skulls, they passed the test in comparison to any candy apple I’ve ever tasted. But were these measly couple of triumphs worth all of the red gunk that was caked at the bottom of my pot, dripped into the burners, and spotted along on the counters? Not really! The disaster with these was more in the mess than the end result.

I don't know about you, but I thought that was a pretty scary story. Until I get a candy thermometer and can give these another try the right way, I’m good just buying my candy and caramel apples!

The survivors. Warning: looks can be deceiving, caramel is inedible.
*Tip: If you find yourself caught in a sticky situation and have something sugary glued to the bottom of a pot, fill the pot half way with water and bring to a boil--everything with melt away and you can just pour the mess down the drain.

Happy Halloween!

Candy Apples:
Woman’s Day, October, 2010

Yield: 12

- 12 small red delicious apples
- 12 clean twigs, thin wooden dowels or candy sticks
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup each light corn syrup and hot water
- ¼ tsp liquid red food color

• Line a large baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment paper. Wash and thoroughly dry apples; remove stems. Insert twigs firmly into stem ends.
• Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir until sugar dissolves. Attach a candy thermometer to side of pan, continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reach 250 degrees F (wipe down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush occasionally to prevent crystallization). Continue to cook until 300 degrees F, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove syrup from heat and swirl in food color, tilting saucepan, until blended. Let mixture settle for a minute until bubbles slow down.
• Holding an apple by the twig and tilting pan, dip and swirl apple until coated. Lift apple and gently twirl over saucepan, letting excess drip back into pan. Place on prepared baking sheet, twig up. Repeat with remaining apples.
• Allow apples to stand at room temperature until candy coating hardens, about 1 hour. Candy apples can be made up to 1 day ahead and stored at room temperature.


~Lisa~ said...

Oh Marissa. I know what you mean. These sort of mishaps happen to all of us. Thanks for sharing. Boy breaking teeth and cracking skull candy apples, sounds like the perfect halloween treat to me hehe. I bet you could scrap off the caramel and sugar and just eat them as is at least saving the delicious apples.

Sommer J said...

They look so yummy, though! Sorry about the catastrophe- but it makes for a wonderful Halloween in the kitchen style post! Caramel can be so tricky, and I agree having a candy thermometer is best. I can't tell you how many times I messed up caramel! I've never really liked cany apples growing up because they're so darn hard and sticky. I can't recall a time I ever finished one. So are candy apples supposed to be slightly hard? I know dumb question, but I haven't had one in years, and the last one I had was probably supposed to be inedible, but they served it to me anyway!

Evan @swEEts said...

I give you kudos for just trying caramel apples! Kitchen mishaps are what I like to call kitchen adventures :) You never know till you try! Your candied apples turned out lovely though!

ravienomnoms said...

I love caramel apples, one of my favorite fall treats!

Hester Chang said...

Aw, Marissa. Your words totally had me feeling the unhappy process right there with you! I'm sorry that they didn't turn out quite right but, as always, each time is a learning experience :-) Hope you had a nice adult drink afterwards (or during) to make the situation a little less sticky ;-)

Roxan said...

So sorry about your apple mishap, Marisa! I hate when that happens... But, you live and learn! I'm glad to hear that at least a few turned out ok. i've had to throw entire projects in the trash before. Btw, do you have a Michael's or craft store somewhere near you? You should be able to get sticks for the candy apples there.

Amy said...

I know how kitchen mishaps go...I have had plenty of them ;)! Caramel can be a tough one sometimes! Your candy apples look beautiful though :)!

Koci said...

Sorry you had such a ghoulish time of it while making these apple-y treats! For what it's worth, they look very yummy! I'm really drooling over that caramel, and the candy looks so festive and bright.

Thanks for the tip, too! I'm constantly battling sticky saucepans. :D

Victoria K. said...

I know exactly how you feel! The first time I tried making caramel sauce I ended up with toffee. It was just not right. In culinary school, I burned my first batch of caramel (and like you said had to boil water in it to get the crud off) and then finally managed to make the perfect caramel sauce (without a thermometer), but have not since tried my hand at it. I am sure with a thermometer and with practice you will get the hang of it! Thanks for posting this, we all make mistakes. Yesterday I burned bacon. BURNED BACON. I felt so stupid afterward. Who freaking burns bacon? Me, that's who.

Adelina said...

I love your playfulness in the kitchen. Always wanted to try making them at home, but I have not yet. I think your apples are perfect for Halloween and I am sure they still tasted just as great.

Mary said...

I'm sorry this happened :( but huge kudos to you for trying! Funny enough, I'm eating a caramel apple right now (that I bought)... and it is delish! I hope you try again soon!

Mary xo
Delightful Bitefuls


Bummer! It happens to the best of us, doesn't it? Dealing with candy can be risky business. A good thermometer and a Valium usually do the trick!

Emily Malloy said...

I understand your pain! I have been there way too many times :-)

They LOOK adorable!

blackbookkitchendiaries said...

i have kitchen mishaps all the time:) i really love caramel... it is so yummy!!

The Mom Chef said...

Kudos to you for sharing this! No, not everything comes out the way it's supposed to. I remember when my candy thermometer broke. I went out and got one that very same day. It's just not worth being without. I could weep that you lost all that wonderful caramel too.

Tanantha P. said...

My least fav part of cooking is cleaning! When you described those pots, pan, and such, I can feel you!
Kitchen mishaps happen all the time for us. Luckily, you know what went wrong. Some people had no clue what they did wrong. :)

Those gooey candy apples look so beautiful and they turned out perfectly! Happy Halloween to you Marisa (I know i'm late hehe)

Katrina V. said...

They look delicious, sorry to hear it didn't work out! I like to buy the tub of gooey caramel and dunk apples in it, but it's definitely not the same as having a real caramel apple.

Magic of Spice said...

I am so sorry that it was such a nightmare...I know how frustrating it can be to have your mind set on something, but then trouble hits.
Well hat least the two candy apples made it through :)