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Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006 02:32 pm

Bad news calls for good apples

HereÂ’s how to make caramel-dipped apples

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It’s been a rough autumn for the food chain. First it was the nationwide supermarket spinach scare, then (albeit to a lesser degree) it was lettuce and carrot juice. Next came the FDA’s announced plans to approve the sale of meat and milk from cloned livestock. Rounding things out was the release of two major reports on seafood consumption that offer contradicting information on risks and benefits, further deepening consumer confusion.

The ghoulish feel to the latest food news is reason enough to give up chewables altogether (IV drip, anyone?) or, conversely, to go on an all-candy diet. Below, I’ve taken an apple, icon of wholesome goodness, and given her a naughty cloak of caramel that will likely take the enamel right off my teeth — but, given the recent dose of gloom and doom, I’ll take my dental chances and bite my way into a sugar coma.

Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

Caramel-Dipped Apples
Adapted from the October 1999 issue of Bon Appétit magazine

2 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 medium apples of choice — tart varieties such as the Winesap, Granny Smith, and York offer a nice contrast to the caramel coating
12 chopsticks
Decorations: chopped nuts, dried fruit, melted chocolate

Combine all ingredients (minus the apples and chopsticks) in a heavy 2 1/2-quart saucepan (about 3-inches deep). Stir with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves (no crystals are felt when caramel is rubbed between fingers), occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, about 15 minutes.

Attach clip-on candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat to medium high; cook caramel at a rolling boil until the thermometer registers 236 degrees (known as the “softball” stage), stirring constantly but slowly with a clean wooden spatula (note: silicone heatproof spatula also works here), occasionally brushing the sides of the pan, about 12 minutes. Pour the caramel into a metal bowl (do not scrape pan). Submerge the thermometer in caramel; cool, without stirring, to 200 degrees, about 20 minutes.

While the caramel cools, line two baking sheets with foil or parchment paper and grease both pan and lining with butter. Push one chopstick into stem end of each apple.

Holding the chopstick, dip one apple into the caramel, submerging all but the very top of the apple. Lift the apple out, allowing excess caramel to drip back into bowl. Turn the apple caramel side up and hold for several seconds to help set caramel around apple. Place the coated apple on the prepared lining.

Repeat with the remaining apples and caramel, spacing apples apart (caramel will pool at the bottom). If the caramel becomes too thick, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream and briefly whisk the caramel in a bowl over low heat to thin.

Chill the apples on sheets until the caramel is partially set, about 15 minutes. Lift one apple from foil. Using a hand, press the pooled caramel around the apple; return to foil. Repeat.

For decorating: Firmly press decorations into caramel; return each apple to liner or dip caramel-coated apples into melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off, then roll in nuts or candy.

Chill until decorations are set, about one hour. Cover; chill for as long as one week.

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