Leaves are turning bright red, yellow and orange. The smell of fresh cider and hot cinnamon donuts lingers in the air. Swimsuits and suntan lotion are traded for hayrides, wool blankets and cold metal bleachers at football games. It's fall in Michigan! The apples are abundant and it is the perfect time of year to make caramel apples.
The caramel apple has an uncertain history. Some say that a Kraft caramel salesman is credited with the first commercially publicized caramel apple. In the 1950's a man by the name of Dan Walker convinced Kraft to print and publicize a caramel apple recipe on the back of their wrapped caramel packages. It was an instant success. Families were able to make simple caramel apples with just three ingredients. An apple, a wooden stick and packaged caramels from Kraft. While this is a very heartwarming story, many historians would disagree, stating that there are recipes for caramel dating back to the 1700's and even earlier.
Pure Vanilla Extract. Prized for its rich, complex flavor and incredibly smooth aroma, pure vanilla extract should be a mainstay in a culinary enthusiast's kitchen. There is no substitute for quality and flavor. The difference between pure vanilla and imitation vanilla is simple. Pure vanilla extract is made from whole vanilla beans extracted using 35%+ alcohol - that's it! Don't be fooled by extracts that claim to be pure; imitation and clear vanilla utilizes artificial flavors and harmful chemicals. That big bottle of Mexican vanilla (that sort of smells like suntan lotion); the one you brought back home from your vacation abroad, is likely not even vanilla at all...
Grocery shopping when you're a kid can be downright monotonous. Walking behind one of your parents while they decide which macaroni and cheese was a better buy was never my idea of fun; except when we were bribed to be on our best behavior. This meant that my brother's and I would break off from our macaroni and cheese indecisive parents and beeline for the Brach's candy bins. Brightly colored hard candies sat next to soft and chewy fruit slices. Ultimately I would choose the wrapped chocolate creams. Raspberry, vanilla, maple and orange were just a few of the flavors they had to offer. More often than not my perfectly measured bag of treats would consist of a few raspberry, perhaps a vanilla, but mostly orange creams. I loved how the orange flavoring played beautifully with the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate. I haven't been to the candy bins in years but the allure of dark chocolate and orange cream still calls my name from time to time.