These apple cider caramels are spectacularly impressive and surprisingly easy to make. They’re simply apple cider or juice that’s boiled down with sugar and spiked with cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. So simple. So stunning.
These apple cider caramels are ridiculously rich, superlatively smooth, and wildly easy to make. They’re essentially just apple cider or juice that’s boiled down with sugar and subtly spiked with cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. The only thing easier than tossing these together is saying “you’re welcome” when friends and family effusively thank you for gifting them these caramels.–Angie Zoobkoff
What else can I use reduced apple juice for?
The astoundingly flavorful trick of boiled cider or apple juice that’s reduced down to concentrate the flavors results in equally spectacular syrup for drizzling over pancakes or waffles when you stop reducing the syrup after it reaches 6 to 7 ounces.
Apple Cider Caramels
- A candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer
- 1 quart cloudy unpasteurized apple juice, apple cider, or freshly squeezed and filtered apple juice*
- 1 cinnamon stick or more to taste
- 1 to 2 star anise or more to taste
- 2 whole cloves or more to taste
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter diced, plus more for the pan
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche (do not substitute sour cream)
- Pinch fine sea salt plus more for sprinkling
- Butter an 8- or 9-inch (20- to 23-cm) square baking pan, line it with parchment paper, and then lightly butter the parchment paper.
- Pour the apple juice into a large saucepan, add the cinnamon stick, star anise, and cloves, and bring to a boil. Cook steadily over low to medium heat until the juice has reduced to 4 1/2 ounces (128 grams) of honey-colored syrup. Be certain to measure the syrup by weight rather than volume to ensure accuracy. Remove the spices with a slotted spoon before weighing the syrup to get an accurate measure. The reducing of the syrup could take an hour or more depending on the size of your pan and the exact heat. It can be difficult to guess when it’s at the right weight, so occasionally strain the syrup into a measuring cup on the scale and, if needed, return the syrup and strained spices to the pot and continue to reduce. Keep a careful watch on the syrup towards the end of the reducing.
- Pour the syrup into a clean 2-quart (1.9 liter) saucepan and add the butter, both sugars, and the crème fraîche. Place the pan over low heat and stir frequently until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Add the thermometer to the pan, bring to a boil, and cook at a steady, even pace, stirring from time to time, until the syrup reaches 260ºF (127°C), 20 to 30 minutes. (The syrup may hover around 220°F for a while but it will eventually shoot up to 260°F.) Do not be tempted to increase the heat under the pan to hasten the process or you’ll scorch the syrup and your caramels will have a lingering burnt taste.
- Slide the pan off the heat, remove the thermometer, add the sea salt, and stir to combine with a rubber spatula. Immediately pour the syrup into the prepared pan and let it cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
- Using a lightly buttered sharp knife, cut the caramel into bite-size squares. If desired, add a tiny pinch of sea salt to each caramel. Place each caramel on a square or rectangle of waxed paper or parchment paper and twist the ends. Place in a resealable plastic bag and stash in the fridge for up to 1 week. Originally published November 26, 2016.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN APPLE JUICEIt’s not necessary to make your own apple juice for these caramels, although if you have a juicer and want to give it a twirl, you can simply press apples through your juicer and then filter the liquid through coffee filter papers. It’s that simple.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These apple cider caramels are absolutely delicious. A HUGE hit with the family! They’re firm yet soft and chewy with a zip of apple taste in a chewy caramel bite. Perfect.
I used unpasteurized organic apple juice and it took well over an hour for it to reduce down to 4 1/2 ounces. The simmering juice filled the house with a wonderful spicy smell of fall. I added the sugars and butter once it was finally reduced down. I did weigh it since I really couldn’t tell how much I had. Seems right at the end, the reduction goes very quickly….so keep an eye on it.
Once the sugar and butter melted, I cranked up the heat to a boil. It took a good 25 to 30 minutes for it to finally come to 260°F. It was frothy and bubbly and looked very good. I let it cool for a few hours on the counter. Once it was room temperature, I popped the pan of caramel in the fridge for about 20 minutes and then cut it into bite-size squares.
Oh, these apple cider caramels are so, so special! The apple reduction gives them a rich and delightful flavor. I used Honey Crisp apple juice and a single star anise. The consistency was smooth and not too sticky. Perfect.
After an hour in the fridge, I cut them into 42 pieces and wrapped them in 4 1/4-inch cello squares. I’m so happy to have these little lovelies for the dessert table this Thanksgiving! They’ll be the star of the show.
These apple cider caramels are like confectionary gold. The apple juice gives them a pleasant tartness so they’re not cloyingly sweet like some caramels. You have to set aside an hour for the apple juice to reduce but it’s well worth the investment of time. Your house will smell better than potpourri when you’re finished and you can use the time to complete some other tasks in the kitchen.
The rest of the recipe is a breeze. These caramels set up very nicely, too—just the right texture in terms of being chewy and melt-in-your-mouth but hard enough to cut without challenges. I enjoyed adding a flake of Maldon sea salt to the top before eating—the surface was still sticky enough to hold it even after they cooled. I’m not sure that I could really taste the added spices in the finished caramels, however.
They keep very well for a few days and I’ve also gotten a lot of great feedback from co-workers—a few people even told me that they don’t typically like caramels, but they love these.
The perfect caramel, in my opinion, is one that is a bit dense but doesn’t have that stick-to-your-teeth tackiness that makes you feel like you’re going to lose a filling. This apple cider caramels recipe comes pretty darn close to perfect. The spices add a little something extra to make it special and the crème fraîche really helps make it smooth and rich.
I will say to be careful when reducing the cider. Mine went a little far so I added some honey to make up for the lesser amount of cider syrup. It came out perfectly—just with a little less apple flavor. It only took about 10 minutes on the stove to make the caramel. Very quick and easy. I forgot to stir in the sea salt so I just sprinkled it on top and it worked great.
These lovely apple caramels are sweet and nicely spiced with a pleasant tang to them thanks to the addition of creme fraiche. They’ll be a welcome addition to my Christmas gift baskets this year. I cut my square sheet of caramels into 6 rows and 6 columns.
Originally published November 26, 2016