Wednesday, October 31, 2012

apple cider caramels + the book is here!

apple cider caramels

So, friends. Yesterday was the day, the day that that the 336-page, 2.8-pound bundle of joy that I began working on over three years ago tip-toed cautiously out of my tiny kitchen in hopes that you’ll make a home for it in yours.

You know, so, no big deal at all.

the smitten kitchen cookbook

What’s in the book? Seeing as I already showed you the cover, I thought I’d show you what the book looked like naked. (Gasp!) You see, I was pushing for a jacketless cover (those paper flaps, they irk me) and we compromised by having a different cover inside that would be a treat for people who get excited about things like that. Between the covers, there are 105 recipes (85 percent that have never been seen on this site), about two-thirds of them are savory (including a beloved recipe for featherlight Gnocchi in Tomato Broth, a Flat Roasted Chicken with Tiny Potatoes inspired by something we bought on a Paris street, and an absolutely hideous but boundlessly delicious Wild Rice Gratin with Kale and Caramelized Onions) and the rest are for sweets things (such as my son’s towering second birthday S’More Cake, and what I consider two of the ultimate Thanksgiving desserts, a Cheesecake-Marbled Pumpkin Gingersnap Tart and the Deepest Dish Apple Pie you’ve ever seen). There are over 300 photos in the book, lots of stories and also this one little other thing that I pressed for, a cookbook that stays open on your kitchen counter when you want it to. My goodness, this makes me happy, as happy as I hope those Artichoke Heart-Stuffed Shells will make you.

more from TSKC

As you can imagine, yesterday didn’t exactly go the way we had in mind. Monday night, as Alex was giving Jacob a bath and I started typing this post, a monster storm was making landfall on the East Coast. I heard a loud boom from the direction of the Con Ed plant on Avenue D, and the sky went briefly green, then turquoise. You can imagine the rest — power outage, phone outage, the discovery that we don’t actually own a flashlight (am I good at being an adult or what?) but that I mix a solid Perfect Manhattan by candlelight. Needless to say, we got off easy. Our home is intact, the lights always go back on on Broadway, and we’re now cozied up at my in-laws while some of this simmers on the stove. I can’t even imagine some of the devastation many of you woke up to yesterday. I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and dry.

cinnamon, sea salt, sugars, cream, butter

In the last few months, I’ve been asked a few times if I have a favorite recipe in the book. I usually clutch my chest in mock horror and say something along the lines of, “I cannot believe you would ask me to choose a favorite child!” But, of course, I’m lying because this, this is my favorite. These apple cider caramels are my love letter autumn in my city, my attempt, as I wrote in the book, to “pack everything I love about New York City in October — the carpet of fiery leaves on the ground from the trees I didn’t even know we had; the sky, impossibly blue; the air, drinkably crisp; the temperature finally delicious enough that it implores you to spend hours wandering around, sipping warm spiced apple cider from the Greenmarkets — into one tiny square.”

new york apple cider
apple cider, about to get skinny
adding butter and brown sugar
apple cider caramels, bubbling furiously

To make them, you take a quart of fresh apple cider and boil and boil it until it is a slip of its original volume, just syrupy apple impact. Then, you expand this syrup into a cinnamon-scented buttery caramel with hidden crunches of sea salt. They’re the most intense caramels that I’ve ever made and if you had a bucket of these at your door when I went trick-or-treating, well, I’d steal them. Thus, you should either not invite me anywhere or make a lot. I think you know what you need to do.

apple cider caramels
apple cider caramels

Thank you: I’ve gotten so many kind, wonderful notes in the last couple asking as to our safety and also from many of your who already received your books and are cooking from them. I don’t know what I did to get such a warm, sweet bundle of people for readers, but you make all of this 100 times more fun. Thank you.

Book tour: We were so sad to have had to cancel the NYC launch event at Williams-Sonoma on 10/30, and hope to reschedule it as soon as possible hooray! We have rescheduled the event for this Saturday, November 10th at 3 p.m. at the Williams-Sonoma across town (59th & Lexington). Details here. Meanwhile, we are in the midst of the West Coast leg: Los Angeles, Napa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, I hope I hope I get to meet all of you.

One year ago: Baked Pumpkin and Sour Cream Puddings
Two years ago: Buckeyes
Three years ago: Baked Chicken Meatballs
Four years ago: Cabbage and Mushroom Galette
Five years ago: Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart
Six years ago: Bretzel Rolls

Apple Cider Caramels
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or less of a finer one
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
Neutral oil for the knife

Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 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 on my stove. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order, because you won’t have time to spare once the candy is cooking. 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 flaky 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, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it.

(Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)

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 (trust me!), 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.

Do ahead: Caramels keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for two weeks, but really, good luck with that.


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