It’s October, and it’s rather hard to believe that the semester is almost halfway over and, in just a few short months, Winter Break will be making an appearance once again. Six more football games remain, but after a spectacularly surprising 24-7 win last weekend against Auburn, tailgating is back on course.

At this point in the semester, Saturday football has transformed from a warm, summer-day tailgate to wrapping up in scarves and gloves, unpacking the heavy-duty coat and heading out to the stadium for a cold night of college sports. Once the seasons change, my entire world shifts to pumpkin spice, a variety of winter-scent candles and the use of every baking dish, cookie sheet and mixing bowl in my kitchen.

So, thinking about what to make for my tailgating recipe this week, my mind was set on a sweet dessert that would bring that wonderful wintry feeling to campus. Investigating a cheaper alternative for a shareable dessert and looking for some inspiration at the grocery store, I found myself not in the baking aisle but rather in the fresh fruit. Who would have thought? Miniature Granny Smith apples, offered in a white paper sack, were sold by the pound for a mere $1.25. Now, that was a deal I just couldn’t pass up. And then, the idea came for my October tailgating recipe.

Here it is — salted caramel apples. No, you don’t have to drive 20 minutes out to the outdoor mall to pick up a caramel apple anymore, and neither do you have to stock up on heavy cream and a mountain of other ingredients to make an intricate caramel sauce. Just five simple and inexpensive ingredients create a dessert fit for any Saturday-evening tailgate, although you may not want to share.

Fill a large saucepan with hot water, and place two metal spoons or knives at the bottom of the pan. Bring the water to the boil, and place the unopened cans in the water, balancing them on the metal utensils (placing the cans directly on the bottom of the pan can cause burning of the condensed milk, so it’s always a good idea to balance them on some sort of utensil for the cooking time).

Make sure the water covers the cans completely. Turn the heat down to simmer, and cook for 2 ½ hours.

The fun thing about this recipe is that it’s all about science. I’m no chemistry whiz, but when it comes to cooking, it’s a different story — science just clicks when it includes food and direct heat. This recipe is a guessing game: Since the cans are unopened, you simply have to hope that the contents have cooked long enough. When I initially made this recipe, the condensed milk cooked perfectly. The second time, it didn’t cook long enough to transform into the wonderful caramel sauce.

If, when you open the cans, the milk has not cooked quite long enough, empty the condensed milk into a medium saucepan and cook on a low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until you reach a dark tan color.

When the time is up, take the cans out of the water with metal tongs or a pot holder. Leave on the counter to cool completely, approximately 30-45 minutes. When the cans have cooled, open carefully with a can opener and check your coloring. The caramel should be thick and dark tan in color. If the caramel is still runny and light brown, see steps above to finish the process.

Wait for the caramel to cool again, as the contents of the can will still be relatively hot, approximately 20 minutes. Stir frequently to stop the caramel from clumping. Dip half of each apple in the caramel sauce, then sprinkle coarse sea salt over the caramel sauce. Then, dip the caramel-covered apple into a small bowl of chopped walnuts for a crunchy topping. Place upside down on a cooling tray or other flat surface, and wait for the caramel to harden.

Refrigerate overnight and allow the caramel to set.

The wonderful thing about this recipe is that the possibilities are endless. Top with your favorite candy or other nut, drizzle with chocolate or butterscotch, or try any other variety you can think of. There really isn’t a bad mixture when it comes to crisp apples, sweet caramel, and a sweet or salty topping.

Bring something truly delicious and seasonal to this Saturday’s tailgate or postgame celebration. Tangy and delicious green apples covered in rich and creamy dulce de leche caramel, crunchy walnuts and an unexpected savory salt can be created in a matter of hours and all for an extremely inexpensive cost.

With Fall Break here and a football game to start the long weekend, it’s only appropriate that the time has come to enjoy some cold-weather treats. Enjoy these sweet apple treats with your favorite hot drink, and cozy up for an extra few days away from campus to enjoy Fayetteville in the fall.

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