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Title:Gourmet Chocolate-Covered Caramel Apples
Gourmet Chocolate-Covered Caramel Apples

4 crisp apples, firm, unbruised and WITH STEMS,
    each weighing 6 1/2 to 7 ounces
12 ounces soft and fresh wrapped caramels
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons hot water
12 ounces good-quality chocolate (milk, semisweet, or
    a combination), chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons solid vegetable shortening
About 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans, chopped
    medium-fine) OR toffee chunks

Wash and dry apples well, and set out on a kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This is especially important if the apples have been refrigerated; they must not be refrigerator cold when dipped.

Unwrap caramels and place in small heat-proof bowl. Place over simmering water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl); stir frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and hot water. All at once, add hot water; stir until incorporated (this will take a couple of minutes). NOTE: Some caramels are more stubborn about melting than others. If you cannot get your caramels smooth while melting or after adding the water, turn the caramel mixture into a powerful food processor fitted with a steel blade, and process briefly just until smooth. The caramel mixture should be a very thick, gooey sauce. Cool until just slightly warm, stirring occasionally.

While the caramel cools, dry the apples again if any condensation has formed on them. Now, you'll need one or two dipping bowls. Ideally, these should be just about as deep as the apples are tall (no deeper); they must be able to accommodate the width of the apples, but shouldn't be more than an inch or two wider. Ideally, use a bowl that is perfect for width, but a bit too shallow.

Prepare a pan by lining the bottom with baking parchment cut to fit. The pan should be able to accommodate all four apples without their having to touch. If you absolutely cannot get baking parchment, line the pan bottom with several layers of plastic wrap. DO NOT use wax paper or foil (even if the foil has been greased), as the caramel will stick to either.

When the caramel is just slightly warm, scrape it into the dipping bowl. Place one apple into the caramel. If your bowl is a bit too shallow, like mine, you'll have to use a flat knife to spread the caramel to cover the sides of the apple as well as the top, stopping about an inch out in all directions from the stem. You must work fairly quickly here, as if your apples are below room temperature they'll thicken the caramel. If the caramel becomes too thick to work with, you can re-heat it over hot water, then cool it again.

Pick up the apple by the stem and remove it from the caramel



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