Amaretto-Spiked Caramel Apple Bites

Every month, I share a recipe from a vintage cookbook and turn it loose on a wonderful bunch of bloggers, who each reinterpret the recipe in their own way. Our assignment this month was to remake "Ozarkian Taffy Apples", which in its original form, was a very hard, crude caramel, a "Prairie Caramel" as fellow blogger Linda put it.

We are an ever-changing group which includes old hands Dennis, Toni, Sabrina, Lora and Lindsay, who will be posting on Tuesday since she was busy with Foodbuzz' 24x24 project (congrats!), to newer swappers Mary, Crissy and Lauren, Pola, Jamie, Claire, Shari, Joy, Monique and Jennifer, to brand new participants Linda, Tricia and Priya, another blogger from Australia to the mix. We are vegans, gluten-free types, vegetarians, utter carnivores and sweets freaks who share a common passion for being in the kitchen. Please take a moment to look at how everyone reinterpreted the same recipe and leave your thoughts for all of us on our pages! We love hearing from you.

It was bound to happen at one point along the recipe swap, or at any point in food blogging, meeting an uncooperative recipe. The Ozarkian Taffy Apples recipe was a series of trials for me, from the chocolate amaretto dipping sauce that didn't work out, to four tries to get the caramel right, to figuring out how to plate it without it looking like a catering photograph. All of these misses distilled down into Caramel Apple Bites, which, it turns out, were so delicious I ate about ten of them while I was assembling them for photography, making myself sick in the process.  I had to step away, go run some errands and come back to shoot the photographs. It's a back-handed endorsement, certainly, but they're so tasty, they'll make you sick to your stomach.

The lesson: Simplicity is King. These are soft, buttery caramels laced with Amaretto liqueur on top of tangy apples. That's it. And, they're pretty darned cute in a little group together, which was how I ended up eating a whole plate of them. Enjoy!

Amaretto-Spiked Caramel Apple Bites
Burwell General Store

Serves: 10 as appetizers, (50-60 pieces)

Active time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 1/2 hours

Candy thermometer, digital if you have it
9" x 12" baking pan

1 1/2 cups half-and-half cream
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup
3 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp Amaretto liqueur
Canola oil cooking spray

Four large, crisp, tart apples, any variety, I used Pink Ladies
one lemon

Pour sugar, corn syrup and one cup of cream into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepot and heat over medium low.  Bring to a boil, and slowly stir, taking care to constantly scrape all edges of the pot until the mixture heats to 234F, about 15 minutes.  (The syrup will bubble up, then ease back down, then begin to deepen in color.)  Once you have reached 234F, very slowly, pour in the remaining 1/2 cup of cream, keeping the contents boiling the entire time.  After it is back up to a gentle boil, add butter, and bring the contents up to 244F (soft ball). Do not exceed this temperature. (At 250F you reach an irreversible "hard ball" stage.) Pull from heat and add Amaretto, stirring in quickly.  Pour contents into a well-oiled baking pan and let completely cool. You should have a very thin layer of caramel, about 1/8" of an inch. Once cool, remove from pan onto plastic cutting board, and keeping your knife oiled, cut into 1/2" x 1/4" rectangles. You may have better luck making clean cuts if you refrigerate the caramel for 30 minutes.

Note the difference between "soft ball" and "hard ball" caramels...

Cut apples into 1/2" x 1/4" rectangles, or any shape you like. (If you stick to the cubes, you'll have a lot of misshapen apple pieces left over.)  Place cubes into a bowl of water with the juice of a half a lemon squeezed into it.  Once apples are cut, begin assembly.  Remove apples one cube at a time and pat dry. Place square of caramel on top, pierce with toothpick, and plate.

Notes: make sure you know where the element is in your thermometer. One of my mistakes was caused by an element that seemed to only read the temperature about two inches up the needle, and my caramel was only an inch deep in the pan, thus scorching my caramel.  Also, the total time it takes to get the caramel to 244F can be up to 30 minutes, so be patient!

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