Smoky Apple Cider Caramel Candies
November 25, 2021
Happy Thanksgiving, if you’re in the US today! It’s the grand hurrah of fall, the celebration of our seasonal harvest and bounty. To really capture that autumn feeling before switching over to Christmas, I was excited to feature some of my favorite flavors in these adorable apple cider caramel candies, with a hint of smokiness.
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Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, which makes sense for someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Of course, I’ve been preparing a feast for the last five days. I’ve decided to feature one of my favorite fall flavors in these caramel candies, which I’m wrapping into goodie bags for all my guests.
The addition of a subtle smokiness in these takes them to another level. Use only a few dashes of liquid smoke, and the flavor will be present but not overpowering. The apple and caramel themselves are the stars here, and they both shine.
What You Need to Get Started
You can easily find all of the ingredients for these smoky apple cider caramel candies at your grocery store:
- Pantry: Sugar, Corn syrup, Liquid smoke
- Fridge: Apple cider, Butter, Heavy cream
- Spice Rack: Sea salt, Flaky sea salt
- Special Equipment: Saucepan, Thermometer, Loaf pan, Parchment paper
How to Make Apple Cider Caramel Candies
Let me let you in on a little secret: making caramel candies is one of the easiest ways you can impress everyone you know. A little goodie bag of these handmade treats is the perfect way to end an evening, with everyone thinking about what an amazing host you have been.
When you are making caramel, it’s important to have all of your ingredients ready to go, and also a good thermometer that you trust. So much of candy making is temperature based, and things move quickly when you get to certain points. It’s a hurry-up-and-wait situation, for sure.
Begin by adding the sugar, apple cider and corn syrup into a medium saucepan. Sugar is the bulk of caramel. It is literally what caramelizes and makes that delicious flavor. Apple cider both adds flavor and moisture to make the cooking process easier to get started. Corn syrup is important to prevent crystallization.
Stir to combine everything together, and cook over medium heat. Stir gently until the sugar has dissolved into the liquid, and there is no more grittiness. Then, you won’t need to stir anymore for a little while.
Once the syrup begins bubbling, insert a candy thermometer. I like to use one that is inside of a spatula, so I can stir with that, and then just let it sit in the pot. You could also use one that clips to the edge of the pot. It’s easier if you can leave the thermometer in the caramel, rather than having to continuously check the temperature.
Allow the caramel to bubble and boil as it thickens and darkens. Because of the apple cider, it will be darker than normal caramel when it’s ready, so pay attention to the thermometer. When it reads 325°F, immediately drop the heat to low.
Carefully add in the butter and heavy cream at this point. If you’ve never made caramel before, you may be surprised by the reaction. But it’s totally normal for the caramel to seize and bubble violently when you add the cold ingredients.
The temperature will drop rapidly, but that’s okay. Stir to combine until the butter has melted and the cream is fully mixed in and smooth. At this point, it should look like caramel.
To make candies, you will heat this mixture to a specific temperature, which will indicate the texture of your caramels. In this recipe, I decided to make these treats deliciously chewy, so cook them to 240°F. Higher temperatures will yield harder candies.
To get an idea of what the texture will be when it cools, drop a small spoonful of caramel into a cup of very cold water. As the caramel cools, you’ll see it form into a soft, pliable ball. This is called the soft ball stage of candy making, and it’s perfect for chewy caramels.
Once the caramel reaches 240°F, turn off the heat. Stir in the sea salt and a little bit of liquid smoke. Caramel directly from the pan is too hot to taste, so if you want to test out the level of salti- or smokiness, be sure to use the water trick again. That will cool the caramel enough to taste.
When it’s ready, transfer the still-hot caramel into a parchment-lined loaf pan. I find that a standard 4×9 or 5×9 pan makes these caramels a good thickness, about three-quarters of an inch. For thinner ones, you can use a larger pan.
Sprinkle some more sea salt on top if you’d like, although with the caramel hot, it will mostly dissolve. I like to do a final salting just before wrapping these. To allow the caramel to set, cover the pan, and place it in the fridge for at least four hours.
You can store these longer. Before or after cutting, caramel candies can be stored in the fridge for a couple months. Since they are mostly sugar, it lasts pretty well without losing any flavor or texture.
Once set, remove the pan from the fridge. Use the parchment paper to lift the solid block of caramel from the pan. Then, use a sturdy knife to cut the block into forty squares. Each of these will become a caramel candy. It’s easiest to cut cold, since it becomes less solid as the caramel warms up.
Sprinkle each cut caramel with a pinch of flaky sea salt. Then, place it on a square of parchment, about four or five inches wide. Roll the parchment around the caramel, and then twist the ends in the same direction to seal.
These can be made far in advance, wrapped and stored until you are ready to enjoy them. Store the wrapped candies at room temperature for a couple weeks, or in the fridge. If you are chilling them, be sure to let cold caramels thaw to room temperature before eating them.
These fun treats have the flavors of fall, condensed into a tiny gooey package. These smoky apple cider caramels are perfect for favors, gifts, and your candy dish!
How to Serve Apple Cider Caramels
Picture these hand-wrapped candies overflowing a little glass bowl on your coffee table at your next get-together. Apple cider caramels are the perfect choice for letting guests grab throughout the evening, or packaging as a take-home favor. Mix and match them with soy sauce salted caramels for even more fun.
More Caramel Treats to Try
- Apple Oatmeal Cookies with Cinnamon Caramel
- Ginger Caramel Sauce with Fresh Apple Slices
- Pecan & Coconut Crusted French Toast with Caramel Sauce
- Double Chocolate Cookies Stuffed with Caramel
- Fresh Peach Crisp with Corn and Caramel
- Pear and Apple Crisp with Honey Caramel
Use Up Leftover Ingredients
- Apple cider combines with its alcoholic counterpart in hard apple cider sangria.
- Leftover heavy cream and sugar are the perfect excuse to make strawberry ice cream sundaes.
- Add a dash of liquid smoke to balance other flavors for a zero-proof spiced rum alternative.
Smoked Apple Cider Caramel Candies
- 1 Cup Sugar
- ¼ Cup Apple Cider
- 1 Tbsp Corn Syrup
- 6 Tbsp Butter cut into 1 Tbsp pieces
- ⅓ Cup Heavy Cream
- ⅛ tsp Sea Salt
- 3-5 dashes Liquid Smoke
- 1-2 pinches Flaky Sea Salt optional
- Add the sugar, apple cider and corn syrup to a medium saucepan. Stir to combine over medium heat, until the sugar has dissolved.
- Once it begins bubbling, stop stirring, and insert a candy thermometer. Allow to boil until the mixture darkens and the temperature reads 325°F.
- Stir until smooth, and continue cooking until the the temperature goes back up to 240°F. Mix in the sea salt and liquid smoke.
- Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, and pour the hot caramel into the pan. Cover and refrigerate to set, for at least 4 hours.
- Once set, use the parchment to lift out the caramel, and a sharp knife to cut into 40 pieces. Sprinkle each with flaky sea salt, and wrap in a parchment square.
- Make ahead tip: Caramel candies can be made far in advance, wrapped and stored until you are ready to enjoy them. Store them at room temperature for 2-3 weeks, or in the fridge for 2-3 months. Thaw cold caramels to room temperature before eating.
- Smoky level: Liquid smoke can be fairly powerful, but this recipe uses only a few dashes for a subtle flavor. If you'd like to highlight the smokiness more, you can use more. Or if you don't want any smoke, leave it out entirely.