Since any self-respecting kid is going to see to it that his teeth are coated with sugar by Halloween eve, why not join in the fun and indulge in sticky, chewy caramel apples? Making them at home allows you to sneak fruit, a science lesson and a parent-child activity into the day's wild ride.
Homemade caramel apples can even be the centerpiece of a party for kids who are old enough to respect the rules about working with hot sugarabout nine to 12 year-olds. As a precaution, keep a bowl of iced water nearby in case of accidental drips. Just plunge the burnt part into the water immediately.
My favorite apples for dipping are fresh, crisp McIntosh or Pink Ladies. Having grown up in Michigan, fragrant Macs are what I dream about in October. Here's what you need for 12 small or six large apples:
1/2 cup toasted almonds with skins
2 cups sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup water
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
can wash and dry all the apples. Then have them carefully pierce each through the stem end with a wooden skewer or Popsicle stick.
can chop the nuts with a small knife and place them in a shallow bowl for dipping.
can measure sugar, corn syrup and water into a saucepan to start the caramel.
Place a candy thermometer in the mixture and cook over medium-high heat until the thermometer registers 280° F. A diligent kid can be assigned to keep an eye on the temperature and let the group know when 280° F has been reached. Have the gather round to watch the bubbling brown sugar and what happens nextthis is the science part.
Carefully remove the caramel from the heat. Stir in the butter and cream and return the saucepan to low heat, stirring occasionally until smooth, a minute or two. Set aside and let cool about 15 minutes, to your preferred thickness.
On a counter, line up the pot of caramel, bowl of nuts and parchment-lined cookie sheets. One at a time, can dip an apple in the caramel, twirling to coat evenly. Then, if they like, they can dip the candy-coated apple in chopped almonds to coat. Stand finished apples on plates or parchment-lined cookie sheets. Chill until firm, about 2 hours, and return to room temperature before eating.
What did everyone learn? Heat transforms sugar. It turns solid crystals into liquid syrup. At 212° Fthe boiling pointthe water evaporates, turning the liquid sugar into a harder and harder solid. If you keep on boiling, it will eventually become a hard candy like a sucker. By adding softeners like cream and butter at 280° F, the sugar gets just the right degree of pliabilitythick enough to cling to the apple and soft enough not to crack when you take a biteyummm. If are really intrigued (like I was as a child) they can spoon some of the boiling sugar into ice water at different stages to see how it has changed.
For those die-hards in the group who like their candy straight up, unmuddied by cool, juicy fruit, you can experiment further. Just spread the warm caramel on a buttered sheet pan, sprinkle with nuts and set aside to cool. When set, cut the caramel into squares with a butter-coated knife. Dip squares into melted, bittersweet chocolate for an added dollop of richness or use as a topping for ice cream sundaes. Even the most hardened trickster is sure to enjoy cooking with sugar!