I got a problem with you people! No, actually, love you bunches. Particularly if I've given you cider caramels made with Airing of Grievances for a holiday gift. They make fantastic host or neighbor gifts. Make them for your office AND your family — cookies are great and all, but these will make you look like a pro, and they're not hard to make. Highly recommend making multiple batches through the season, recipe makes 100 1-inch squares, which sounds like a lot, but they go fast.
So. We started with Smitten Kitchen's cider caramel recipe, it's lovely as it is, but we wanted to add bright, tart cranberry and holiday mulling spice notes. Deb from Smitten Kitchen has insanely good recipes, but what we love about her is the way her recipes make us feel like we're in the kitchen with her, and she's a friend that gives really good cooking advice.
2 cups (472 ml) Treehorn Airing of Grievances Cider
2 cups (472 ml) fresh unfiltered apple juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or less of a finer one (cut to 1/4 tsp)
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (11 grams) dark brown sugar, not packed
Neutral oil for the knife
A Note on Ingredients
What fresh unfiltered apple juice is called on a label can drive us a bit nuts. You might even say we have grievances to air. See footnote for our take, which as you might imagine as cider producers, can get lengthy.* Since we subbed out half the juice with cider, we added the tablespoon of loose dark brown sugar to account for the sugar content difference of the liquids, if you want slightly less sweet caramels, omit the dark brown sugar. We also reduced the cinnamon from the original recipe since Airing of Grievances has cinnamon and mulling spices already.
Definitely read through Smitten Kitchen's full recipe for full details and instructions. Also, check out the comments from the "I made this" tab — tons of great tips and questions answered. Boil the juice and cider on high in a 3- or 4-quart pot until reduced to 1/3 to 1/2 cup in volume, it took us about 40 minutes. Watch it carefully and stir occasionally, especially in the first 10 minutes. This pot boiling over = mess you don't want.
While that's going, get your mise en place for all the other ingredients in order, once the syrup is reduced, you will have virtually no time for prep. Use a silicone 8x8 baking pan, or line a metal one with 2 sheets of parchment paper. Blend cinnamon and flaky salt.
When syrup has finished reducing, remove from heat, and stir in butter, sugars and cream. Attach your candy thermometer to the side of the pot, and return to medium heat (our stove runs hot) until the temp reaches 252F — stay close, this only takes about 5 minutes and if you go too high, you'll ruin the texture and lose your molars when you eat them. Deb has good tips if you don't have a candy thermometer.
Remove immediately from heat and stir in the cinnamon flake salt to distribute. Pour into pan to set the caramel. About 2 hours, faster in the fridge. The caramel can be very hard to cut, even with an oiled knife, so do what we did on the recommendation of one of the commenters. Set at room temp for about 20 minutes, score the top of the caramel with a repeatedly buttered knife, and finish setting in the fridge. After about an hour or so, you'll be able to break the scored caramels apart easily, do it in small sections so they stay square. Just don't do what we did and slice through the silicone pan while scoring.
Wrap and twist ends in 4-inch-square pieces of wax paper (WAX PAPER) — parchment for setting, wax paper for packaging. We like these best at room temp, they'll be pretty firm from the fridge.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for around two weeks.
*The U.S. and Canada are the only places in the world in the habit of calling unfiltered apple juice with no alcohol content "cider," and the kind with alcohol "hard cider." Any time that you see "cider" on our website or on social media, know that we are talking about fermented apple juice, with alcohol. But in an effort to ease your shopping excursion, fresh unfiltered apple juice may be labeled "sweet cider" or "soft cider" or possibly even just "apple cider." What you need for this recipe is an unfiltered apple juice that has a ton of sediment for the intense apple flavor. The best kind is super fresh from an orchard, but if all you can get is an unfiltered juice that has been pasteurized, these caramels will be delicious. You are heating the juice in the recipe regardless, so any loss of flavor from pasteurization will be negligible.