Apple Cider Caramels

My sister’s favorite pieces of chocolate in the Russel Stover box were the square caramel creams.  To me they were just OK.  I think it was because my mom kept the chocolates in the refrigerator (like she does every chocolate confection) and therefore,  I missed out on the soft chewy delight of a perfect caramel as I was breaking my teeth and gnawing the treat into a sloppy glob of sugar.  But Lindsay chewed ice cubes as a snack, so the fact that the rock hard caramel had flavor was a real delight to her – odd ball!!

This time of year has me craving mulled apple cider and when I saw this recipe over at SmittenKitchen I knew that I had try them.  I adapted the recipe by mulling my cider before making the caramels.  I think this gave them delicious depth in the spice department.  They are the perfect consistency and the tangy apple flavor balances the sweetness wonderfully.  I brought some home for Lindsay to try this weekend and made her promise to enjoy them at room temperature.  These caramels are addictive, the flavor profile is that of a candy apple, I suggest making them ASAP!

Apple Cider Caramels

yield + 36 one inch pieces

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1 whole cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
2-3 1/4 inch slices of ginger root
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or less of a finer one
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream

Simmer apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan with the spices for 20 minutes.  Let cool and steep for up to 2 hours. This can be done a day or two ahead of time and stores in the refrigerator.
Again in 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat reduce the mulled cider until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This takes about 35 to 40 minutes on my stove. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, gather your other ingredients, because you will need to move quickly once the candy is cooking. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.

Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 8 minutes. Keep a close eye on it.

Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly, I stirred it gently till is stopped bubbling. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, I recommend a cool place (not next to the oven). Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a knife to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. (Deb talked about needing to oil the knife but I didn’t have any problem.  My caramels looked slightly more firm than hers so maybe that is why.  Use your own judgement) Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close.  Caramels will keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for two weeks.

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