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Chef's Hat: Take your caramel apple treat up a notch

This fall forget the plain old caramel apples. Instead, combine those apples and caramels into a dessert the whole family will enjoy - even though it won't last long. PineandLakes.com Illustration

Fall means shorter days, cooler weather and a large variety of apples hitting the produce section of grocery stores.

One thing that goes amazingly well with apples is caramel. As with a lot of recipes, caramel apples came about accidentally. They were a concoction that came about in the 1950s when a Kraft Foods employee was experimenting with leftover Halloween candy.

A few weeks ago I came across a recipe for Caramel Apple Bread. Once I bit into a warm piece of apple bread with its rich, gooey frosting, I set out to finding a few additional recipes that combined these two fall favorite ingredients.

Several recipes I ran across call for Granny Smith or tart apples. I generally use a sweet apple, such as a Honeycrisp, and have found this does not have any detrimental effect on the overall recipe.

If you desire, you can save yourself some time by using a jarred caramel sauce. But I would advise against that. Homemade caramel sauce is rich, creamy and irresistible. A homemade caramel sauce takes a bit of effort, and you have to watch and stir the sauce constantly so it does not burn. But once you taste the sweet, rich flavor of the sauce, you'll be glad you went through the effort.

Unfortunately, these succulent desserts are not calories free. And if you have good intentions of just eating one small piece, forget it. These are the types of recipes that you can't just take one bite.

So instead of denying yourself to save a few calories, go out and walk an extra mile or do a few more jumping jacks. These apple caramel delights are too good to pass up.

This fall forget the plain old caramel apples. Instead, combine those apples and caramels into a dessert the whole family will enjoy - even though it won't last long. Happy Eating!

Caramel Apple Bars

From bettycrocker.com

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter or margarine, softened
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 ½ cups coarsely chopped, peeled tart apples (3 medium)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 14-ounce bag caramels

Instead of using bagged caramels, you can make your own caramel for this recipe.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix brown sugar, butter and shortening in large bowl. Stir in 1 3/4 cups flour, the oats, salt and baking soda. Reserve 2 cups oat mixture; press remaining oat mixture in ungreased rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.

Toss together apples and 3 tablespoons flour; spread over mixture in pan. Heat caramels over low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted; pour evenly over apples. Sprinkle with reserved oat mixture; press lightly.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender. Cut into bars and store covered in a refrigerator.

Caramel Apple Crisp with Easy Caramel Sauce

Adapted from Iowagirleats.com

  • 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • Dash of salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • Vanilla ice cream,optional

Easy Caramel Sauce

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

For the Easy Caramel Sauce: Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir slowly until caramel has thickened, 8-10 minutes, then add vanilla and stir until thickened again, 1 more minute. Remove from heat, then let cool slightly.

The sauce can be prepared ahead of time. Let it cool slightly and then pour into a jar and store in the refrigerator. Warm for 30 seconds in the microwave before using.

For the Caramel Apple Crisp: Preheat oven to 375 degrees, then spray a medium-sized baking dish (8x8-inch or 10x7-inch pan) with nonstick spray. Add apple slices to a large bowl, then toss with cinnamon and 4 teaspoons flour until well coated. Transfer to prepared baking dish, then drizzle 1/2 cup Easy Caramel Sauce on top.

Combine oats, brown sugar, chopped pecans, remaining 1/4 cup flour, salt and butter in the bowl. Use a fork or fingers to combine mixture until crumbly. Top caramel apples with the oat topping. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender and caramel is bubbly.

NOTE: If the crisp topping begins to brown before apples are tender, place a piece of foil on top and continue baking.

Allow Caramel Apple Crisp to cool for 20 minutes to an hour before scooping into bowls. Top with reserved caramel sauce or, if desired, vanilla ice cream.

Caramel Apple Bread

Adapted breadwithasideofbutter.com

  • 1 cup smooth, unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup peeled, cored and finely diced apple (1 apple)
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Caramel Glaze

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Spray a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with non-stick spray, then set it aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the applesauce, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Whisk well to blend.

Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir just enough to combine; do not over mix. Fold in the apples.

Transfer the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake on the center oven rack until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, about 60 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and put it on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and place it on the rack to finish cooling.

To make the caramel glaze topping: Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add in brown sugar and milk and whisk constantly. Bring to a boil, then boil for 2 minutes while continuing to whisk. Remove from heat and let cool about 30 minutes to 1 hour, until caramel has thickened, stirring every 10 minutes or so. You need to continue stirring while cooling so the sugar fully dissolves and the caramel doesn't stick to the pan.

Pour caramel over the top of the cooled apple bread. Let sit 2-3 hours, until caramel topping has set. Store leftovers in an airtight container on the counter or in the fridge.

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