I hoard cooking magazines like I have a clinical problem worthy of exploitation on network T.V. With so many recipes at my fingertips, I’ve compiled a ‘short-list’ of ones to try. Soft Apple Cider Caramels is one of those recipes from Food & Wine Magazine, two years ago. I only slightly adapted the recipe, and only out of pure stupidity – but it worked! Allow me to explain… I am infamous for going to the grocery store (with a list) and forgetting an important ingredient – in some cases the key ingredient! Case in point, one such instance occurred when I was preparing Chicken Tagine for a dinner party. Everything was simmering on the stove and with 30 minutes prior to the arrival of our quests, I realized I had forgotten the chicken! In fact, I think my exact words to my husband were, ‘holy sh*t, I forgot the chicken!’ I remember the look of pure amazement on my husbands face, as if to say ‘you’re making Chicken Tagine… and you forgot the chicken?!’ Despite ‘the look,’ my wonderful husband rushed out to the store to obtain the main ingredient and saved the day.
I digress. I went to the grocery store the other day with the express purpose of purchasing ingredients for Soft Apple-Cider Caramels. When I got home, I realized I had forgotten the corn syrup! Too embarrassed to admit that I once again forgot an ingredient despite having a detailed shopping list, I started looking around my pantry for a substitute. What came to mind almost immediately was agave nectar. I did some research online prior to jumping into the recipe and found that there was a difference of opinion as to whether or not agave nectar was an appropriate substitute for corn syrup. The primary concern seemed to be whether or not the substitute would prevent crystallization. (If you’d like to read more about it, click here). I’m happy to report that using agave nectar instead of corn syrup, resulted in smooth, soft, and creamy caramel. I’d say that’s a resounding ‘yes’ to the question of whether or not you can substitute agave for corn syrup – at least as far as caramels are concerned.
These chewy delights are like caramel apples in bite-sized candy form. They’re the perfect edible gift this season!
If you would like to make these ahead, you can store the caramel wrapped tightly in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
- 2 quarts (1/2 gallon) apple cider, non-alcoholic
- 3 cups heavy cream
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 4 cups sugar
- ½ cup agave nectar
- ¼ cup water
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of ground allspice
- pinch of ground cloves
- cooking spray
- In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the apple cider. Stirring occasionally, allow to simmer and reduce to 1 cup, about 1 hour.
- In the meantime, cut 4x4-inch squares of parchment paper to wrap the caramels.
- Line a 9x13-inch baking dish or sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the heavy cream and condensed milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. (Don't walk away - this will come to a simmer quickly). Once the mixture has been brought to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and keep warm.
- In a large pot, combine the sugar with the reduced apple cider, agave nectar, water, and salt - bring to a boil. Once the mixture has been brought to a boil, reduce to a simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
- Add the diced butter, several pieces at a time while continuously whisking until all of the butter has melted.
- Gradually whisk in the warm cream mixture until incorporated. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stirring frequently until the temperature reaches 245 degrees F, about 45 minutes. (I found that once the mixture reached 220 degrees F, it began to bubble up quite a bit - so just be mindful towards the end so you don't end up with a mess. If it does begin to bubble beyond the confines of the pot, consistent stirring will help and/or adjusting the heat level).
- Stir in the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Pour the caramel into the prepared baking dish and allow to cool completely, undisturbed. Then refrigerate overnight.
- Lightly spray a sheet of parchment paper with the cooking spray. Invert the caramel onto the parchment paper and peel off the backside of the paper from the baking dish.
- Using a sharp knife or pizza roller, cut the caramel into 1-inch wide strips, then crosswise into ½-inch rectangles. Wrap each caramel in a 4x4 square of parchment paper, twist the ends to seal. (I found using powder-free latex gloves was the cleanest way to wrap the caramels. They are soft, so I suggest working with one block of caramel pieces at a time and refrigerating the others until you're ready to wrap them - as the caramels warm, they become more tacky).
- Once wrapped, serve and enjoy! (If you do not want to wrap all of the caramels in one sitting, they will last in the fridge, uncut, for at least 2 weeks).
1. candy thermometer or other high-read device.
2. powder-free latex gloves (optional - but makes life a little easier).
3. parchment paper
Reduce the Apple Cider:
Stir in the Ingredients and Bring the Caramel to 245 Degrees F:
Pour the Caramel into Baking Dish Lined with Parchment Paper:
Cut and Wrap Each Piece of Caramel: