Monday, October 3, 2011

My gentleman friend and I went upstate this weekend to visit my family - including my Uncle Richard, who was in town for the weekend. Spending time with my folks is always fun, but this time, I had an ulterior motive - I wanted to get some apple picking done!

My plans were almost foiled, however, when we woke up on Saturday morning to a steady drizzle and an even more depressing forecast - rain, rain, rain! Luckily, us farm folk (and the one Brooklyn boy among us) are made of hearty stock... so we put on some sneakers and headed out to the orchard.

At Stone Ridge Orchards, the trees were bursting with fruit and the place was practically deserted. (Thanks, rain!) Ed and I picked a full bushel, pausing every now and then to munch on a crisp, sweet Empire apple, and then we headed back into Kingston for groceries - and hot apple cider doughnuts, fresh out of the fryer and thickly coated in cinnamon sugar - at Adam's.

Once home, the whole family pitched in to turn our bounty of apples into delicious treats - a thick, cinnamon-laden applesauce; an even thicker and richer slow-cooker apple butter; and an apple pie with a sadly tough and flavorless crust. (Cook's Illustrated, how could you fail me so?! Vodka pie dough sounded like such a brilliant idea, but wound up just being a waste of my mom's fancy vodka.)

But at least the first two projects turned out flawlessly! I am really loving this applesauce, which Ed and I ate for dinner tonight on top of potato pancakes (made with CSA potaters!) with a big dollop of sour cream. The apple butter is also super duper good, and crazy easy to make. You just peel and core about 20 - 25 apples and put them in a slow cooker with about two cups of sugar and any spices you're into (my mom added cinnamon, but I like my apple butter sans additional spice). Put the slow cooker on high for about an hour to break everything down, then turn it down to low and ride it out, stirring every now and then. Proper apple-butter-ization happens somewhere between the 12th and 24th hour. (If yours is particularly watery after around the 8th hour, you can balance the lid half-on, half-off the crock to allow some moisture to evaporate.)

Not all of the apples went into the sauce and butter though - I knew I wanted to bring some home for caramel apples! I'd never successfully made caramel before, though, and I knew it would be a tall order. And a tall order it was, indeed. At first, my caramel looked and smelled delicious, but wound up setting way too thick and hard. (Uh, that's what she said?) It was tooth cracking hard. Almost Werther's caramel candy hard. My apples were ruined! My beautiful apples!

Determined to make it work, I peeled the too-hard caramel coating off the dipped apples and melted it down in the microwave with a little more heavy cream. With a lot of patience and a lot of stirring, I wound up with this:

A slightly-too-sticky and loose but beautifully flavored caramel clinging to a gorgeous, fresh apple. In case you're curious, I used this caramel apple recipe from Martha Stewart Weddings. I'm not really sure exactly where I went wrong, but I suspect that the fault lies with my candy thermometer - I think it tends to read cooler than the actual mixture is. (Boring side note: when I was boiling sugar for the French buttercream in the last entry, my sugar was actually reaching the hard crack stage when the thermometer said it was in the soft ball stage. Clearly, I need a new candy thermometer.)

Finally, a kiss goodbye to tomato season. Red and yellow plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and thyme:

And roasted at 400 degrees for 45 minutes:

I haven't figured out what to do with these yet, but I have a feeling they go pretty well with just about everything.

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