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Caramel-icious

Fruit topped with rich coating is a sweet treat

Fruit topped with rich coating is a sweet treat

October 15, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Who says all apples have to be good for you?

Not Steve Cook, who owns The Gourmet Goat restaurant in downtown Hagerstown with Paul Deputy. His sinfully delicious caramel covered apples will boost any dentist's business. Cook coats crunchy, chilled apples with chewy, homemade caramel sauce before adding such touches as chocolate, toasted nuts, coconut or raisins.

He started making these caramel apples with his grandparents as a child - and now his Gourmet Goat customers can't get enough of them, Cook says.

For large treats, he chooses Red Delicious or Golden Delicious apples. The Granny Smith variety is smaller, but the apples' tart taste provides a delectable accompaniment to the sweet caramel, he says. Cook always washes the apples well to remove any wax, which will prevent the caramel coating from sticking to the apple's skin. He also recommends chilling the apples to make the caramel set faster.

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After the apples are clean and dry, Cook spears each one with a popsicle stick or thin dowel rod cut to size. Popsicle sticks are handy, but dowel rods tend to be stronger and more elegant looking for parties and gifts, he says. Cook then places the prepared apples on a baking sheet or tray coated in nonstick cooking spray or butter, and he places them in the refrigerator while he prepares his caramel sauce.

Cook favors making his caramel from scratch, but individuals in a hurry or who don't feel too comfortable in the kitchen can instead melt caramel candies in the microwave or on the stovetop.

"It costs more, but it's better for the person who doesn't do a lot of cooking," he says.

Cook's recipe calls for either dark brown sugar or granulated sugar. He prefers the brown sugar because it melts quickly and gives the caramel sauce a richer flavor than the granulated sugar, he says. And he uses half and half rather than milk for a thicker, richer sauce. The vanilla in the recipe can be substituted with other flavorings, according to the chef's taste. Cook sometimes uses vanilla for the caramel sauce and almond extract to flavor the dark chocolate that he likes to drizzle over his caramel apples.

The trickiest aspect of making caramel sauce is knowing when it's done, Cook says. Undercooked caramel won't harden properly, and overcooked caramel will be too brittle to coat an apple. Use a candy thermometer or the cold water test - place a drop of caramel in cold water; if it immediately forms a ball, it's ready - to check for doneness.

All of the ingredients should be completely blended and creamy. Constant stirring is essential to ensure smoothness and prevent scorching, Cook says. The good news is that overcooked - but not burned - caramel can be spread into a pan for caramel candy, he says.

Cook allows the caramel sauce to cook for about five minutes before twirling each apple in it. If the sauce cools and becomes too stiff, it can be heated in the microwave for about 30 seconds, he says.

While apples taste great covered in caramel alone, Cook likes to liven up his creations with chocolate, toasted almonds or walnuts, dried cranberries, raisins and coconut. And sliced apples served with bowls of caramel sauce, chocolate sauce and other dipping delights make great appetizers and desserts for dinner parties, he says.

"There are a lot of fun things you can do with your toppings," Cook says. "It's really neat when people can build their own apples."

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