I kind of went crazy this year with making treats for Kiddo’s pre-school. I know once he’s out there in the real world next year, his school isn’t going to be as keen about homemade goodies, so this was the year to get a chance to get some of my candy-making and cookie-baking desires satisfied.
I debated for a while whether I was going to make sugar cookies or gingerbread for the kids. Choo and several friends talked me off the gingerbread ledge (I can’t wait for December, when I attempt to be knee-deep in gingerbread for the whole month), but I decided to do a bit of a twist on sugar cookies that ended up being a very nice compromise. It gave the cookies enough character that they were more than just plain sweet. As for the icing, I like to go with Martha Stewart’s recipe and instructions. If you do any amount of cookie baking through the year, I would recommend getting the meringue powder–it’s easy to pick up at craft stores like Michael’s or any candy making supply store. It’s shelf stable, and you’re not wasting egg yolks (well, unless you’ve got plans for, say, lemon curd or pastry cream or hollandaise sauce).
I think I just realized my love of royal icing and brightly decorated cookies comes from them being completely verboten when I was a child. Oh, sure, we had the occasional Toll House cookie, but a delightfully colored, almost-pure-sugar cookie was an absolute no-no, so I’m sure my inner child is just excited that I can make them now.
Brown Sugar and Spice Cookies
makes approximately 30 cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (skip if you use salted butter)
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy.
- With a rubber spatula, scrape down sides, then beat in egg and vanilla.
- Sift together all dry ingredients together, and add to butter mixture. Beat until flour is fully incorporated.
- Turn dough out onto plastic wrap and press down to approximately 1/2″ thick. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 4 hours, up to overnight.
- When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350°. Line sheet pans with parchment paper, or butter sheet pans.
- Roll dough to just under a 1/4″ thickness, and cut with cookie cutters. Place on sheet pans 1″ apart.
- Bake cookies 11-13 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on sheet pan for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.
- Once fully cooled, they can be frosted with royal icing.
Next up were the caramel apples.
One of the biggest complaints that come from home cooks when making caramel apples is that the caramel slips off the apple. Well, of course: if you’re buying them from the supermarket, they’re waxed like your cousin Skeeter’s Camaro. If you have access to a farmer’s market, go buy unwaxed apples. I know, they’re not as pretty, but your caramel will stick. If you have to get your apples from the supermarket, then you need to get that wax off. My method is to put them in a sinkful of water with a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid (a drop is all you need, it’ll help cut through that wax) and a fresh nylon scrubby or washcloth. Wash the apples thoroughly and scrub the skins; be sure to dry the apples with a clean towel. Once the apples are dry, remove any stems, and punch in the craft sticks at either the stem or blossom end. As I was using baby Gala apples, the bottoms were on the small side, so the sticks went into the blossom end.
Once that was done, it was time to start the caramel. As you may notice, I’ve got two shades of caramel happening in that picture. The first batch of caramel I made, I used white sugar–by the time the caramel hit hard ball stage (255-260°, ideally) it was a very light brown–not as dark as I would have liked it, but if I had let it go farther, then I’d have headed into crack stage territory, and there would be no chewy caramel. The next batch of caramel, I went with brown sugar, and I liked the final result–a much darker “caramelly” color once it reached 260°.
Once the caramel was made, I had my apples ready to dip. I swirled the apples first in the caramel, then swirled them a second time over the pan so I could evenly coat the apples and any excess caramel could drip off. A very important tip: put your dipped apples on wax paper or silpat (if you have it). It will do caramel-mind-melds with your pans and plates if you don’t have anything in between. After dipping all the apples, I just did a drizzle of milk chocolate over the caramel, but this is where you can have fun and experiment–dip in different kinds of chocolate, roll in chopped nuts or candies–the possibilities are endless. Kids can especially help out with the decorating the apples, and you can pretend it’s healthy, “because it’s got fruit.”
Caramel for Caramel Apples
covers 4-5 large apples, 6-8 medium apples, or 8-10 baby apples
1 pound sugar (white sugar for a light caramel, brown sugar for a darker caramel)
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
Add all ingredients into a saucepan, and simmer over medium heat to hard ball stage (255-260°). Take off heat immediately, and working quickly, swirl apples in caramel, and then tilt and spin slowly to let excess drip off and coat apple evenly. Place on silpat or wax-paper lined sheet pans. While caramel is warm, roll in chopped nuts if desired, or let caramel cool completely and drizzle with chocolate, and roll in nuts or candies.