I think I've posted about my caramel before. In the past it's brought me angst as I became familiar with my electric stove and the pots I had available to me. I've never really had a set recipe that I used every time, but the one that I drift to most often can be found in my trusty Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook. It's a basic caramel, and it's never done me wrong in terms of flavor. While we were sitting around last weekend, I decided I wanted to make caramel apples for the kids from some of our orchard apples. So I pulled out the cookbook, checked the ingredients, and determined that I didn't have the requisite cream. I was going to have to head to the store first, but a quick glance through the recipe presented a shortcut version using sweetened condensed milk instead of the cream.
I was game. I had a can of condensed milk, plus the recipe said the caramel would be done in about 20 minutes, instead of nearly an hour. I prepped four apples, using chopsticks for the stick and I chopped up some honey roasted peanuts for dipping the bottoms in. In no time I had four caramel apples, and a big glob of leftover caramel. I lined a pan with foil and dumped the caramel in, figuring I could save it for another time.
The apples were delicious, and I'm sorry I didn't get a photo of them. They were a fantastic Saturday afternoon treat. But this post is really about the caramel. That quick caramel was delightful. After the block of leftover had cooled, Andy and I cut off a small piece to eat plain and were surprised at how delicious it was. It's a slightly soft caramel, as I took it off the heat the second it hit temperature. The sweetened condensed milk almost adds a dulce de leche note to the caramel. They're fantastic. So since then I've been lobbing off a few pieces here and there to wrap in wax paper and enjoy as an occasional treat. In fact, we so enjoy the flavor, that I don't see any reason to make the full-blown version for Christmas treats this year. This would also be the perfect caramel to drizzle over pecans for turtles, it blends beautifully with nuts. These Quick Caramels are worth every second to make, and much easier than the traditional version.
1 cup butter
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Line an 8x8 or 9x9 inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of the pan. Butter foil, and set aside.
In a heavy 3 qt saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add brown sugar, condensed milk, and corn syrup, mix well. Cook and stir over medium high heat to boiling. Carefully clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook and stir mixture over medium heat to 248F or firm ball stage. (10 to 15 minutes)
Remove the saucepan from the heat; remove thermometer. Stir in vanilla. Immediately pour caramel mixture into the prepared pan. When firm, use the foil to lift it out of the pan. Use a buttered knife to cut into 1 inch squares. Wrap each caramel in waxed paper. Makes about 2 pounds.
To dip Caramel apples: Wash and dry 14 to 16 small tart apples; remove stems. Insert a wooden stick into the stem end of each apple.
Prepare as above, except do not pour caramel into prepared pan. Working quickly, dip each apple into hot caramel, turning to coat. If desired, dip bottoms of apples into 1 cup chopped nuts. Set on a buttered baking sheet; chill if desired.