It is amazing to realize no matter how much time goes by, special memories remain as vivid as if it happened a day ago. Even if it is just a portion of the memory, a picture of that moment develops like a photograph creating a snapshot of time. Such is the case of my childhood Halloween memories. What I remember most about Halloween is Mom making caramel apples and popcorn balls for trick or treaters brave enough to walk up our steep and dark road. Mom was not crafty and rarely made homemade gifts or treats, but every Halloween she spent the day dipping apples in sweet caramel and forming popcorn balls like it was her mission in life.
Our house was situated on a side road up a very steep hill. The surrounding houses in the neighborhood were scattered around the hill, in valleys, and down along the bay. It was steep territory to traverse and the neighborhood kids cleared trails from house to house creating shortcuts, so we could easily walk from one friend to another with the purpose of climbing up and/or down the hill only once in our travels. Walking up to my house was a steep hike and Mom believed that anyone who was willing to walk up our hill on Halloween deserved a reward for their efforts.
On Halloween, we traveled in packs, so mom could expect at most three groups of trick-or-treaters from the neighborhood. She bestowed upon her Halloween trick-or-treaters with not one, not two, but three treats: caramel apples, popcorn balls, and hot apple cider. We could sit and eat our treasure right there in the comfort of our kitchen or continue on our costumed journey. I am not sure if we timed it so we would stop at my house midway on our travels to warm up and take a break. Often, we paused only long enough to drink our hot cider, and then went on our way seeking more candy treasure. Mom was always so happy to see everyone dressed up in their costumes, and those caramel apples never tasted so good.
Despite my vivid picture of Mom dipping apples into caramel, I have no memory of how she made them or what recipe she used. Additionally, I cannot remember ever seeing a recipe for caramel apples in her recipe file either. Chances are she got the recipes from either Joy of Cooking or Sunset Magazine, but after a couple of years making them she knew the recipe by heart.
My lack of family recipes from Mom left me to figure out how to make caramel apples on my own. I did not keep up her Halloween tradition, but I love caramel apples and want to bring them back into my life. Over the years I tried a couple of different recipes and I found two options producing delicious caramel for apples. You can choose to go all out and make your own caramel for dipping. Or, you can go the semi-homemade option and melt soft caramel candies for your caramel sauce.
Tips for making caramel apples
Making caramel apples is
easy, temperamental and I learned some helpful tips the hard way from my mistakes and triumphs.
First, make sure there is no wax on the apples. The wax just creates a slippery surface on the apples and the caramel will slide right off. This is one reason why making caramel apples with freshly picked apples is ideal.
All apples bought at a grocery store are coated with wax. To remove the wax, drop apples one at a time in just boiling water for less than a minute. Make sure the apple’s entire surface area gets a good soaking from the boiling water. Be careful with the amount of time the apples spend in the hot water because you do not want to cook them.
Remove the apples from the hot water and rub them with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. You can also add apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to the boiling water. The acid helps break the bonds of the wax. Before you dip each apple in the caramel, make sure the apple is dry.
Another method to remove wax from apples is to wash the apples and rub super fine sandpaper over the apples being careful not to break the skin. Rinse off and thoroughly dry the apples. (Full disclosure, I have never tried this, but I am very tempted to for the next time I make caramel apples.)
Second, firmly secure each stick, popsicle stick, or lollipop stick inside the apple. However, do not push it all the way through the apple. The juices from the apple will leak out and weaken the caramel.
Third, chill the apples for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before you dip them in the caramel. Cold apples will set the caramel faster.
Fourth, if you do not make your own caramel, use the best quality soft caramel candy you can buy. The better the quality of the caramel, the more reliable it is for dipping. Do not use store-bought caramel sauce.
Fifth, less is more. Allow the excess caramel to drip off. Aim for a thin even layer around each apple. This will help prevent the caramel from sliding down and pooling around the base of the apple. The pooling caramel is often unavoidable. You can fix it by pressing on the caramel and pushing it back into shape over the top of the apple.
Sixth, refrigerate the caramel apples until the caramel sets. Once set, serve them or dip them in melted chocolate, then chopped nuts or candy if using. Refrigerate the chocolate dipped caramel apples until the chocolate sets and gets hard.
More Apple Treats
If you have leftover caramel apples, slice them up and briefly sauté them in butter. Serve the sautéed caramel apple slices over vanilla ice cream, french toast, waffles, or Dutch Baby pancakes.
Classic Caramel Apples
- 8-10 medium tart apples like Granny Smith
- 8-10 handles like lollipop sticks popsicle sticks or clean tree sticks
- 1 recipe of caramel sauce
- 8 oz (200 g) pistahios, or other nuts like walnuts or pecans, chopped fine (optional)
Caramel Sauce from Tartine
- 1 cup (225 g) sugar
- ½ cup (133 g) unsalted butter (one stick)
- 2/3 cup (150 ml) heavy cream
- ¼ cup (60 ml or 85 g) light corn syrup
- 2 TB (30 ml) maple syrup
- 1 TB (15 ml) Blackstrap or dark molasses
- ¼ tsp (1 ml) real vanilla extract
- Pinch of Kosher salt
Caramel Sauce Using Store-bought soft Caramel Candies
- 1 lb. (500 g) 500 g soft real caramel candies
- 3 TB (45 ml) heavy cream
- 1 TB (15 ml) real maple syrup
- 1 TB (15 ml) dark molasses
Prepare your apples
Wash and dry the apples. Remove the wax from the apples before you start. See the Caramel Apple blog post for wax removal instructions.
Secure the handle into the apples. Pierce one stick into the stem end of each apple. Do not push the stick all the way through the apple because the juices will leak and weaken the caramel.
Place the prepared apples on a tray and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. If using parchment paper, lightly spray it with cooking oil. Set aside.
Make the caramel sauce
Tartine caramel sauce
Add all the ingredients into a heavy-duty saucepan with a minimum of a 3-quart capacity. Place the pot over medium-high heat. Occasionally stir the ingredients to prevent the sugar from burning on the bottom of the pan. Bring the caramel to a boil and cook the caramel until it reaches 236°F (113°C), about 7 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and rest the caramel until it cools down to 180°F (82°C).
Continue to Make the Caramel Apples.
Caramel Sauce Made from Soft Caramel Candies
Add water to the bottom portion of a double boiler filling the saucepan until it reaches shy of 2-inches up the side of the pot. Place the top portion of the double boiler on top then add all the ingredients to the pot. Turn the heat to medium-high and melt the caramel. Occasionally stir the ingredients to incorporate the ingredients and promote even melting. Once the caramel is melted, turn down the heat to low and begin making the caramel apples.
Make the Caramel Apples
Remove the chilled apples from the refrigerator and bring near your saucepan with the caramel sauce. Position the prepared rimmed sheet pan at the opposite side of the caramel sauce.
One at a time, dip an apple into the caramel, turning it over to get an even coating of caramel. Lift the apple out of the caramel and let the caramel drip back into the pot. Turn the apple around to encourage the caramel to evenly drip off and not collect over one spot. Turn the apple right side up and hold it upright for 30 seconds.
If you are dipping your apple into chopped nuts or candies, turn the apple upside down and dip the apple into the bowl filled with nuts or candy.
Place the finished apple on the prepared sheet pan. Once you are done with all the apples. Place the sheet pan in the refrigerator and chill the apples until the caramel firms up.
Once set, serve immediately. Store the caramel apples uncovered in the refrigerator for up to three days.
After you dipped all your apples and notice caramel pooling at the base of the apples, you can press the caramel back into place with your fingers.
Many different types of nuts and candies taste great with caramel apples. Sprinkles, Heath Bar Crunch, Chocolate Chips, and or any nut will easily stick to the caramel if chopped in small size pieces.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Last week I was making a vegan plum crisp for my brother-in-law and while shopping for some plums I spied ripe Forelle pears. It may seem a bit too early for pears, but Forelle pears are now ripe and ready at my local farm stand. I love the way Forelle pears look, they are so adorable in its petit form looking like a baby Bartlett pear with rosy cheeks. I find them hard to resist and are the perfect size for an afternoon snack. Change of plans, my plum crisp just got a makeover and turned into a vegan plum and pear crisp with lots of fresh ginger and a hint of nutmeg.
What Is A Crisp?
Crumble or crisp? I have confused the names of these two desserts for so many years. It is just that the actual name of each dessert is opposite to what my backward brain believes it should be. Essentially aren’t they the same dessert after all? Yes and no. Both the crumble and crisp are baked fruit desserts with a crusty topping. However, one has rolled oats in the topping and the other does not.
A fruit crisp has the rolled oats and flour topping and is so named because the rolled oats make the rough and tumble topping crispy like an oatmeal cookie. A fruit crumble is made with all-purpose flour, butter, sugar and gets all soft and crumbly while baking and soaking up the fruit juices.
Plum and Pear Crisp
This is one of the easiest desserts you can make, and it is one that is so satisfying. Essentially it is baked fruit with a giant cookie topping like two desserts in one. Top it off with some vanilla ice cream and you have 3 dessert indulgences on your plate.
The recipe is a basic formula for all fruit crisps. Usually, crips have around 6 cups (1.5 Liters) of fruit filling for the standard amount. This formula works with any type of fruit like plums, pears, apples or other stone fruit. This amount of fruit filling fills a nine-inch (23 cm) pie plate or 8-inch (20 cm) square baking dish.
The topping generally has equal parts of rolled oats to all-purpose flour with butter and sugar. For this recipe, I wanted to make a vegan dessert so, I used a vegan butter substitute. I have success using Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread. (Not an ad.) The flavor is pleasant and tastes natural, unlike some kinds of margarine. FYI, not all margarine is vegan. It is one of the easiest desserts to convert to a vegan option because the butter is the only animal product to find a substitute for.
Keys to Success
The key to a perfectly baked plum and pear crisp lies in the fruit selection. The type of pear or plum is not as important, but how ripe they are is. Your fruit must be ripe. Ideally just ripe or a smidgen off ripe. Overripe plums and pears will dissolve into a sauce and not keep their shape. Unripe plums and pears will never get soft no matter how long you bake them. It is just not their time. Plus, they do not have any flavor.
I used a combination of black plums and European plums, like a Moyer plum. The European plum has a longer and oval shape compared to the roundness of black plums. Any type of plum will taste great as long as they are ripe.
For the pears, I used only Forelle, because they were ripe. Bosc pears work very well in a crisp or pie because they keep its shape. I did not peel the Forelle pears, but if I used Bosc pears I would peel them as the skin is rougher and thicker than Forelle pears.
I have made this plum and pear dessert many times, yet as you can see in my photographs, this time around I went a little overboard with the fruit filling. Ideally, you want a level surface of fruit filling for the buttery topping to spread over. The fruit cooks evenly when it is not piled up so high and the rolled oats in the topping won’t burn before the crisp is done.
My problem is the result of a shallow baking dish, that I chose because it would photograph better than my trusty Pyrex deep dish pie pan. My vanity resulted in a delicious plum and pear crisp, but one that did not bake as evenly as it should. I say this, so you can learn from my mistake and not feel you must make your crisp overflowing with fruit like I did.
Mix It Up
Use any fruit for the filling. Apples, pears, plums, nectarines or other stone fruit. I added some blackberries with the plums and pears in my crisp just for fun. If you want to make a mixed berry crisp, mix the berries with a type of fruit that retains its shape like nectarines, plums, or Bosc pears. Otherwise, it will look saucy without any distinctive fruit shapes.
Change the spices. I love fresh ginger with fruit and use it often. Other good spices are cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or ground clove. Lemon zest and lemon juice brighten up the fruit and the juice prevents apples and pears from browning. Lemon zest is also a nice accent flavor mixed in the topping.
Add dried fruit like chopped dried apricots or cranberries. They add a tart concentrated flavor to the fruit filling and help absorb some of the fruit juices. Add about a half a cup (125 ml) at the most. Dried fruit should be an accent flavor, not a featured one.
Add nuts or unsweetened coconut flakes to the topping. Pecans, walnuts or almonds give the topping some extra crunch. If you add unsweetened coconut flakes, add a 1/2 a cup (125 ml), and remove equal amounts of rolled oats and all-purpose flour (1/4 cup, 60 ml, each).
P.S. Yes, I do see the reflection of the chandelier in the spoon. I could not get the darn clone stamp to work in Photoshop so I gave up and included the photo anyway. To all the Photoshop experts out there, how do you get rid of reflections in shiny objects like a silver spoon?
Ginger Plum and Pear Crisp
Fruit crisp has a basic formula that is suitable for any seasonal fruit. This basic formula makes it easy to personalize your crisp using the fruit and spices you love. I love using fresh ginger with fruit as it adds some bite and compliments most fruits like pears, plums and apples. However, ground ginger does not taste as bright as fresh ginger in baked desserts.
Often, I need a vegan dessert and I find fruit crisps are an easy vegan dessert option. There are no eggs or dairy products to maintain the structure of a crisp so all you need to substitute is a plant-based butter-like spread. In this recipe, you can use equal amounts of vegan butter spread or real butter. When selecting a vegan butter spread, read the ingredients list carefully to make sure there are no dairy or other animal-based ingredients in the mix.
- 6 cups (1.5 L) prepared fruit. Depending on the type and size of plums you will need 5- 6 plums. And, 4-6 Forelle pears or 3-4 Bosc pears
- 6 oz (170 g) blackberries optional
- 1 ½ inch (14 g) knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2/3 cup 113 g packed brown sugar
- ¾ cup 75 g rolled oats ( not quick rolled oats)
- ¾ cup 100g all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup 27 g toasted nuts, like pecans, almonds or walnuts, chopped
- 5 TB 86 g straight out of the refrigerator vegan butter substitute or butter
- Pinch 1/8 tsp of Kosher salt
Set the oven rack into the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Lightly butter a 9-inch (23 cm) pie pan or 8-inch (20 cm) square pan. Set aside.
Slice open the plums and remove the pits then slice the plums into wedges. Add the plums into a large mixing bowl.
Slice each pear in half and remove the core. Then cut each pear into chunks about 1/2 -3/4 of an inch (1 cm - 1.5 cm). Add the pears into the bowl with the plums. The skin on Forelle pears is very thin and tender so I do not peel them. However, if you are using Bosc pears, you might want to peel the skin.
Add the minced ginger and grated nutmeg to the bowl with the fruit along with the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Mix together until the sugar and spices are thoroughly mixed through the fruit. Set aside.
In another bowl add the sugar, rolled oats, all-purpose flour, toasted nuts and a pinch of Kosher salt. Mix together with your clean hands until the butter and all ingredients are evenly incorporated and forming soft clumps of dough.
Pour the fruit into your prepared baking pan then sprinkle the crisp topping evenly over the top of the fruit. Place your baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet, then slide into the oven. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the top is evenly browned and the juices are bubbly.
Cool on wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot or room temperature. Best eaten the day it is made. Store leftovers in the refrigerator, loosely covered in aluminum foil.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Chocolate is a separate food group in my household and just like protein, I can’t live without it. Whenever I order a dessert in a restaurant, it is the chocolate desserts I gravitate to. However, I hesitate whenever I see a flourless chocolate cake on the menu because I do not know if it going to be fudge or cake. When it comes to flourless chocolate cake, I like them on the lighter side, not the ones that taste like dense fudge. It is not that I believe they taste bad, it is just they are very rich. The type of flourless chocolate cake I prefer, have a lighter airy texture, despite being moist and loaded with dark chocolate.
So far, I have come across two flourless chocolate cake recipes that satisfy my requirement of biting into a slice of cake, not a chunk of fudge. What makes them different from most flourless chocolate cake recipes out there is the use of finely ground nuts and whipped egg whites. The nuts act like a flour replacement and give the cake some texture and body. Also, because of the whipped egg whites, there is some air which gives the cake some lift and tastes light. Just like brownies, the cake is fudgy without being dense.
The only challenging aspect to making a flourless chocolate cake is how fragile they are. Especially the types of cakes I prefer. Without the gluten to hold it together, the cake can easily break and crack. Transferring the cake off the bottom of the springform pan onto a serving dish requires the strength of all the good karma, prayers and best wishes you can muster. As well as patience and your best problem-solving skills. It is a very moist cake, especially in the middle which makes it very delicate.
My recipe is adapted from Diana Henry’s Bitter Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe in her cookbook, Simple. She uses ground almonds which I love, but I could not bring myself to use almonds a day after I wrote a post about Earth Day Recipes and how growing almonds in California is depleting their water supply. I will not give up almonds altogether, but I should leave some time before I start using them again.
Flourless Chocolate Cake Variations
In my recipe I substitute almonds with ground walnuts and I added orange zest and Grand Marnier. Chocolate pairs well with many types of nuts, so you can’t go wrong using any type of nut. I do love walnuts and chocolate, especially with bitter orange flavors from orange zest and orange flavored liqueur. I kept all the proportions the same, but I also added Grand Marnier for an extra orange punch. There is just enough of the walnuts for a subtle nut flavor with the dark chocolate the focal point.
However, the addition of Grand Marnier makes the cake more fragile than without it. I believe this is because of the extra moisture in the cake batter. I don’t believe baking it longer will help. If you are concerned about the final show stopping appearance, then don’t add the Grand Marnier. The whipped cream has Grand Marnier in it, so the dessert will have the great chocolate and boozy orange flavor.
Removing the cake off the bottom of the spingform pan is challenging with this moist and delicate cake. If you don’t care, remove the sides of the pan and place the cake still on top of the pan’s bottom, on a serving plate. No one will care or notice while they are enjoying your delicious cake. Or, you can try lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to see if that helps. If your cake does break don’t despair, you can break it up and make ice cream sundaes with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, dark chocolate sauce, whipped cream with orange flavors and candied orange peel. Or, cut the cake up into bite size pieces for people to nibble on with their coffee or tea.
Orange Essence Flourless Chocolate Cake is worth making regardless of its delicate nature. Because the chocolate is the dominate flavor, use the best quality of chocolate you can buy with 70%- 72% cocoa butter. I have great success with Lindt chocolate and Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate, twilight delight found in candy section of the grocery store. Here is a link for more information on the best chocolate bars for baking from Serious Eats.
Bitter Orange Flourless Chocolate Cake
An effortless flourless chocolate cake with intense dark chocolate flavor and a light and nutty texture. The cake is very moist and fudgy but not dense.
Serve with whipped cream
Flourless chocolate cake
- 6.75 oz (192 g) unsalted butter about 1 2/3 sticks
- 11.5 oz (328 g) good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces 70% coco solids
- 3/4 cup (164 g) super fine sugar
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup (57 g) ground walnuts (see note)
- finely grated zest from half a navel orange
- 2 TB Grand Marnier Optional
- Confectioners' sugar for dusting the cake
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 TB confectioners' sugar or to taste
- Zest from half an orange
- 2 TB Ground Marnier or a 1/2 teaspoon of Orange Blossom Water
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 °F (177°C /Gas Mark 4) oven. Butter an 8-inch (20 cm) springform pan. Set aside.
In a medium metal mixing bowl, add the broken-up chocolate, the butter and sugar to the bowl.
Add some water to a large 10-inch (25.5 cm) skillet just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Set on a burner over medium heat. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and place the bowl with the chocolate, butter and sugar in the center of the skillet. Melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally. Do not let the water get to a brisk boil. Keep it at a gentle simmer, being careful not to splash water into the chocolate.
Remove the bowl from the skillet just before all the butter has melted and stir until all the chocolate and butter has melted. Let the chocolate cool for four minutes.
Add the egg yolks one at a time to the chocolate, stirring between each addition until each yolk is incorporated.
In a separate bowl, with a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff with soft peaks and still wet. Soft peaks will form when you lift out the beaters. Gently fold in the Grand Marnier if using.
Add the orange zest to the ground walnuts and mix together. Add the walnut mixture to the chocolate and half of the whipped egg whites. Fold into the chocolate. Then fold in the remaining egg whites.
Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and place on a rimmed sheet pan in case it leaks. Place the cake in the oven and bake for 35 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a cake rack. Don't get upset if you see the cake deflate and crack as it cools. When the cake is completely cool, unlatch the pan and carefully remove the sides. Run an icing spatula, or thin sharp knife under the cake to loosen. It helps to clean off the spatula or knife every time you pull it out from under the cake. Carefully transfer the cake onto a serving plate.
Dust the cake with confectioners' sugar right before serving.
Right before serving, use a hand-held mixer and whip the heavy cream until it just holds its shape. Sprinkle in the confectioners' sugar and Grand Marnier, if using. Whip until combined soft peaks form. Taste and correct the whipped cream for sweetness and the Grand Marnier. Place in a small serving bowl.
Serve the whipped cream with the cake and extra fruit, like berries.
Before you start the cake, toast the walnuts in a preheated 350°F (177 °C / Gas Mark 4) oven. Spread a couple of handfuls (60 g) of the walnuts over a small rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 7 minutes. Spread the toasted walnuts over a clean lint free kitchen towel. Fold a portion of the towel over the nuts to cover and rub the towel with the walnuts back and forth to remove the walnut skin. No need to go crazy rubbing off all the skin. Rub back and forth a few times until no more skin comes off without scrubbing. Collect the walnuts leaving the loose skin behind and grind the walnuts in a food processor.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.