Happy new year everyone. I took some time off from the blog during the holidays because I was traveling quite a lot and wasn’t really up to writing up stories and recipes while packing and unpacking my suitcase.
The last three weeks included six different flights, two continents, three countries, and a lot of eating. One of those flights was probably the scariest one I’ve had so far. We were flying from Athens to Paris when the captain came on to tell us there was some turbulence over the Alps, “nothing major,” he said. Five minutes later, the plane is swaying left and right, up and down, like a leaf caught in a windstorm. My hands sweated so much from my anxiety, that the iPad I had been gripping was crusted over with salt from dried sweat.
But there were also fun times and good food. There were the Christmas coffee cakes that Steve’s sister (and their mom before her) always makes. They are variations on Kulich, a yeasted sweet bread, studded with raisins and topped with a sugar glaze and colorful decorative sugar. Sliced, toasted, and slathered with butter, they make the perfect holiday breakfast. There were also tons of chocolates from Puyricard that we ate with our friends in Pressac, France, where we spent 6 days living in a house in the middle of a small farm with nothing around it but fields and animals. We celebrated New Year’s eve there, during which we ate fresh oysters, foie gras, and roast veal and cauliflower. The following week, in Cyprus, I had kolokotes for breakfast, traditional pumpkin turnovers that are filled with sweet pumpkin, raisins, and bulgur wheat. And my mom made koupepia, stuffed grape leaves. They were so good, I had them for three meals in a row. And I got to eat loukoumades, traditional fried dough balls that are soaked in honey syrup.
Now I’m back and getting ready for the next 2-3 months of cold weather and meager offerings at the market and the stores. This is the season for making things that have no season, using ingredients that are either available year-round or are preserved from the spring or summer. It’s also a good time to discover something new, that maybe you’ve never used before. Like this boiled cider that I bought from King Arthur Flour and which I’ve used in everything from oatmeal to quick breads to salad dressings, and these amazing caramels that I took with us on our trips over the holidays (Steve’s family loved them. Our French friends were not as thrilled with them, given their dislike for cinnamon in desserts). The boiled cider has the viscosity of maple syrup and is wonderfully sweet and tangy. The caramels I made with it are soft and slightly chewy, with a distinct apple flavor, sort of like a caramel apple, but smaller and less messy.
Apple Cider Salted Caramels – Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup boiled cider
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice
flaky sea salt (like Maldon) for top
Lightly grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides.
Combine the cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and boiled cider in a heavy-bottom, deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 244°F-245°F on a candy thermometer, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your particular stove. (If you prefer hard caramels, boil to 248°F.)
Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the salt and spices.
Pour the hot mixture into the prepared pan. Let it cool completely. If you’re making soft caramels, put pan in the fridge for 20-25 minutes before cutting into 1″ squares. If you are making hard caramels, you can cut them without refrigerating them first.
Wrap caramels in parchment paper or wax paper. Place one caramel in the center of each square; wrap the opposite edges of the paper around the caramel and twist the exposed edges to close.