Friday, December 7, 2012

Apple Cider, Yum - December 7, 2012

During the Thanksgiving Holiday we took advantage of the opportunity to buy local apple cider for sale in all the markets.  We drank some cold and some hot, but the rest I used for cooking.  I actually made two recipes with the cider, but one was much more successful than the other.

I am sure you have all heard the excitement surrounding the Smitten Kitchen and her new cookbook.  I heard her interviewed on Diane Rehm and was surprised to hear her say that her favorite recipe in the new book and on her blog was apple cider caramels.  It sounded like a great idea, so I gave it a try.  I was surprised that even though I didn’t have a candy thermometer on vacation, the caramels were the perfect consistency especially as they sat or if they were kept in the fridge.  There was just one problem.  The recipe had way too much salt for me.  So here is that recipe with less salt and I hope it works for you:

Apple Cider Caramels
4 c. apple cider
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. sea salt
8 T. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/3 c. heavy cream
Vegetable oil for the knife

Boil the apple cider in a 4-quart saucepan over high heat 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. Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order:  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 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, or about 5 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. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut, to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.

I had much more success with pumpkin butter.  I bought a cute little pumpkin left at the market after everyone was finished buying their pie pumpkins.  It, the cider and a blender were the keys to a great breakfast spread that our family shared all through the Thanksgiving holidays on English muffins and biscuits.  It would also make a great a holiday gift, but I don’t think it will can due to the fat content, so you need to make about a week ahead and tell the givee that it should be kept in the fridge and used soon.

Pumpkin Butter - 3.5 cups

4 – 4 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (made from small sugar pumpkin)
1/4 c. sweet apple cider
1 c. brown sugar
3-4 tbsp pure maple syrup, to taste
1 T. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of fine grain sea salt

Peel and cut pumpkin in 1 inch cubes.  Save seeds to roast and boil pumpkin until soft. Cool and add pumpkin flesh to a blender. Add cider and blend until smooth, stopping to push down the pumpkin when necessary.  Add the brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Process again until super smooth and no clumps remain.

Spoon mixture into a medium-sized pot. Cover with lid and prop lid ajar with a wooden spoon. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a low boil. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until it’s as thick as you want it.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Cool completely, stir in lemon juice and a pinch of salt, and then store in a sealed jar in the fridge.  It should keep for 2-4 weeks.

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