What would you do if a close friend said, “I really wanted to buy candy apples for the guests at my three year old’s birthday party…..but to order them online would be $5.95 – $14.95. EACH. You’re so good with things like this, and I know that it’s a really big favor to ask, but…..but if I gave you the money for ingredients would you maybe be able to make them for me or is that too much trouble?”
You would probably say what I said, which is, “Of course I’ll make them for you! I mean, your little guy only turns three once, right? And it’s no trouble, really – it will be FUN! Oh, and as if I’ll take your money for that. Don’t be ridiculous. Really, consider it a present. I can’t wait!”
And then, when you’re putting the Saturday date of the party into your calendar and booking off the Friday night before for said candy-apple-making, you realize that the Friday before is actually another close friend’s wedding…..a day when you’ll be with her from morn ’till night. That’s okay though, right? There’s always Thursday night! Thursday, the day before a vacation day, which means a mad rush to finish a pile of work which teeters precariously on your desk, threatening you with the possibility of not getting home for candy apple construction until almost 9 pm.
Oh, and then there’s the actual apples. She needed fifty (yes, 50) candy apples. Except that then a few more people got invited to the party, and with a margin of error (just in case any candy apples met an unfortunate demise), there was actually a need for….uh…..about 65 to 70. Sixty five candy apples.
Candy apples are easy enough though, right? I mean, we all know the steps:
1. Thoroughly wash and dry your apples.
2. Twist off the stem and insert a stick or pointy dowel about 1.5″ deep where the stem used to be.
3. Roll the apple around in melted chocolate or caramel, shaking the excess off.
4. Dredge the coated apple in any manner of toppings, and drizzle some additional chocolate or sauce over top if you really feel a yen.
5. Place the apple on well greased wax or parchment paper, and let it set fully in a cool dry place.
Sure….that sounds easy enough. I can totally do that.
At two in the friggin’ morning, as I was in the midst of evaluating the merits of going to sleep versus staying up and going straight over to my bridal friend’s home to do her makeup, I finally ran out of chocolate on apple number 65, and I was so relieved that I actually whimpered the whole way upstairs to bed.
Let me start this litany of complaints with the caramel apples. You see, caramel apples are my favorite….or, at least, they were my favorite, until Thursday night at about 11 pm, when after 45 minutes I was frazzled and desperately stirring 2 kg of Kraft caramels over a double boiler, begging and pleading with them to melt.
I had taken the coward’s way out. I thought to myself, huh, I have limited time to make a whole lot of candy apples. Although I almost always prefer to make things from scratch for the quality of taste and guaranteed ingredients, this was not one of those times. Home made caramel sauce is easy enough, but home made candy caramel requires patience, a candy thermometer, impeccable attention to temperature and detail, and a lot of room for error. Store bought Kraft caramels just need to be heated with a teensy bit of water until they’re gooey and viscous, so it makes sense to use them here, right?
After 45 minutes of painstaking boredom as I unwrapped individual caramels, one by sticky one, I bellowed up the stairs for Mike’s assistance. It was still another half hour before all the caramels were unwrapped and in the bowl, ready to be heated. All of a sudden making the caramel from scratch didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all, and I would have traded three sticky fingers from my left hand for a candy thermometer so I could just scrap this bullocks and start again fresh. As the night wore on, I was reminded again and again that hindsight is always useful during times of crippling failure.
At least when the caramels were finally unwrapped it was destined to be smooth sailing…..except for one tiny crimp in my so-called well thought out plans: they wouldn’t melt. The little bastards would not melt. They sat snug as a bug in their big glass bowl over a double boiler, passively resisting the urge to relax into a melty puddle of sugary goo like they were supposed to. After half an hour, there was just a bit of cloudy brown sludge in the bottom of the bowl. After an hour, they were JUST STARTING to soften.
I took a temporary respite from the caramel to melt down a bowl of milk chocolate. A dozen apples got turned into S’mores On A Stick, with a coating of graham cracker crumbs on the bottom half and a liberal smattering of mini marshmallows on the top.
The s’mores apples kept me busy for about a half hour, which was enough time that they caramel had – FINALLY - melted enough to be used.
I was so relieved that at first I didn’t believe my luck. It was over two hours since I unwrapped that first finicky caramel, but now all of my efforts were going to be rewarded with beautiful, glossy, creamy caramel candy apples!! I did a little dance in the kitchen as I gleefully dipped the first apple into the bubbling vat of caramel on my stove and proudly set it down on the greased tray with a flourish of pride in my accomplishment. And watched all the caramel slowly ooze it’s way in a slimy slug trail off the apple, pooling at the base in a visible mockery of my efforts. Devastating.
For my second attempt I dipped two apples, shook off the excess caramel, and then twirled them in my hands, upside down, side to side, spinning and spinning until I felt like a human tilt-a-whirl, for 2 or 3 minutes until the caramel looked fairly set and evenly coated on the outside. Satisfied with this effort, I put the apples down and watched, with mounting hysteria, as the caramel slowly eased it’s way down into a puddle of despair.
Was the caramel too hot? Was I supposed to prep the apples in some other way? Mike suggested that they weren’t that bad, they were kind of cute in a quirky way because the caramel looked like a little hat and there’s the brim and……he slowly backed out of the kitchen and fled upstairs to consult our handy friend the internet as I swore and rattled pots for no reason other than to make angry noises. When he came downstairs a few minutes later, he gently told me that it appeared I was doing everything right, and that’s just what caramel did, but it might possibly pool less if I chilled the apples first and then put them immediately into the fridge to set.
I stuck the apples in the freezer for 10 minutes before using The Big Chill technique. Mike cleared out the top two shelves in our fridge and I put the prepared lined and greased cookie sheets inside to cool. The cold apples got swathed in the hot caramel and then immediately put into the fridge to cool quickly. Results: no great improvement. I tried doing the swirling air dry technique before chilling them too……nope. It wasn’t meant to be.
As a last ditch effort, I thought that maybe if there was something ON the caramel, a second coating which would bind it, that the caramel would sit tight. So, immediately after the caramel coating I rolled one apple in graham crumbs and toffee bits, and a second apple in M&Ms. They were, arguably, the ugliest caramel apples that I have ever seen in my life. Even a liberal drizzling of chocolate was not nearly enough to redeem these sorry wretches.
Eventually, there comes a time where you just need to take a good look at a bad situation and figure out that the best route you can take is to cut your losses and just take a different path. I gave up. I had ten ruined caramel apples that I had wasted almost three hours trying to make, 12 or so s’mores apples, and about 50 left to go.
As for the rest of the caramel, well, I whisked in a cup and a half of milk and sealed it in a Johnny Gigantor mason jar in the fridge. I have no idea what to do with that much caramel sauce, short of breaking into a local elementary school and force feeding sundaes to the primary students. Heeeeeey, anybody out there looking for a litre and a half of caramel sauce? Because, if so, I know someone who can help you out……..
My first baby-steps back to sanity were to make some more S’mores apples, because at least I knew they wouldn’t push me over the brink to tears.
After I had officially given up on the caramel apples (you can see them relegated to the back in the picture below) and committed to chocoate-y coatings only, things started looking up. I melted batch after batch of dark chocolate, white chocolate and milk chocolate. Apples were coated and rolled in rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, Skor toffee bits, and anything else I could get my hands on.
The only toppings that I actively avoided were the main allergens, because with that many youts running around I had concerns health and safety. They were all egg, peanut and tree nut free. There was a wheat allergen in the graham crumbs, dairy in the chocolate, but that’s it. At least, if nothing else, I could appease my internal OHS director.
Oh – but one more failure, because what would I be without multiple miseries? I tried coating some of the apples with M&M’s. This was not my best idea. I mean, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the caramel fiasco, but still not the smartest thing that I’ve done in recent years. The bowl of M&M’s got all gummed up with derelict chocolate, and then the candies themselves were too heavy to adhere to the melted chocolate until it had set up a bit stronger, so gravity got the better of most of them. You can see one of my two meager attempts nestled in the middle, amongst throngs of happy sprinkly and toffee coated apples.
Next time I would probably break the M&M’s up into crumbly chunks so that the smaller shards would be light enough to stick. Except that I’m not planning on ever making massive amounts of candy apples again, if I can ever help it. I mean that. Never again.
Sixty passable and ten junked candy apples later, my kitchen looked like a cross between Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory and a concentration camp for miscreant Chocolatiers. Not pretty. Not pretty at all.
There are some positives to this story, however.
1. I almost lost faith halfway through, but in the end was able to deliver on my promise to a friend. That’s important to me.
2. The look on her face when we carted in box after box of individually wrapped and multi-flavored candy apples was absolutely priceless, and really made it (almost) worth it in when all was said and done.
3. I have realized that no matter what the price is for a candy apple, they’re not overcharging. At all. Excluding the price of sticks and wrappers, the apples, chocolate, ill begotten caramels and candy toppings cost over $160. Add in five hours of effort and devastation, and all of a sudden $14.95 for a candy apple, when it’s someone’s business and sole income, doesn’t seem too bad. If you go out and buy a candy apple for $5.95, just consider yourself lucky and give the poor peddlar a tip.