September 23rd marks the autumn equinox. The nights are already beginning to draw in and we can sense, on some small level, the passing of summer. The children are going back to school and life is resuming its routine. Already, subtle changes are taking place. In my garden, unpicked pears, plums and apples are beginning to fall. You can hear the pears at the top of the tall tree as they break their hold on the branch. They tumble, hitting leaves as they go, until they crash to the ground with a small thud. The sound of their journey is like hurried footfalls through dense undergrowth.
Autumn does not mark the end, but really the beginning of an array of seasonal food. Chestnuts, damsons and walnuts come into their own this time of year, as do courgettes and other summer squashes. Later in the season, the hardier squashes will start to appear, and the stores will become like display windows for exciting colours and unusual shapes. Beetroot, kale and cauliflower become more abundant and the short-lived but greatly anticipated appearance of fresh, ripe figs adds a new dimension to our cooking. Autumn is life in full, glorious technicolour.
One of the great signs of the fun side of autumn food is the toffee apple. Like pumpkin, the toffee apple is something we don’t seem to have at any other time of year. We could, apples are available all year round and toffee is easy enough to make, but we do not. I think it’s because they are so symbolic to us. Toffee apples in the autumn are like cranberry sauce in December: it’s just where they belong.
So, with the impending arrival of this abundant season, I thought I’d put together a toffee apple recipe that you and the family can enjoy on the darker evenings to come. Making toffee is straight forward enough, but you do need to watch its temperature, as the outcome will vary depending on how hot you get it. A sugar thermometer is an invaluable asset when making toffee. I bought one for about £10 that clips to the side of the pan and has all the essential markings written on it. What you’re looking for when coating apples is the hard-crack point. This is the point when the toffee will harden as it cools. It does this very quickly, so it is advisable to keep the toffee on a very low heat while you are dipping your apples to prevent it from hardening too quickly. If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, it takes about 20 minutes of simmering to reach the hard crack point, and you can test it by dropping a little onto greaseproof paper. If it starts to harden straight away, and becomes stringy on your spoon, it is ready. Don’t keep it boiling away past this as the toffee will burn, and you will taste it.
Another step you must take is to remove the wax from the apples so that the toffee will stick, in the same way you have to rub down a wall before painting it. You do this by dunking the apples into boiling water for 1 minute, before taking them out again and patting them dry. Once you’ve done this, your apples are ready for coating.
Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 20-25 minutes, plus setting time.
6 red apples
For the toffee:
500g unrefined sugar
250ml cold water
5 tbsp golden syrup
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You Will Also Need:
6 toffee apple sticks
200g dark chocolate
100g vegan margarine
Chopped hazelnuts for dipping
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Gently put all 6 apples into the water and leave them there for 1 minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon and pat them dry once they are cold. Set aside.
Put all the toffee ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until you have reached the hard crack point (about 154 degrees C). Use a sugar thermometer for this if you can, or see instructions above to tell when it is ready.
Put the toffee apple sticks into the core of each apple and gently dip each apple into the toffee (see video), keeping the toffee on a very low heat. Be very careful when doing this. After you have dipped each one, stand it on its end on the greaseproof paper and allow to harden.
When the toffee has completely cooled, melt the chocolate and margarine and whisk them together to make a chocolate sauce. Arrange your hazelnuts into a suitable dipping bowl. Gently break off the toffee flats that have formed at the base of each apple, to allow for better dipping. Dip the base of each apple into the chocolate sauce, so that it comes about halfway up and then dip them into the hazelnuts (see video). Leave on the greaseproof paper to completely set.