These candies are a concentrated burst of rich apple cider and cinnamon. Top with flakey salt to balance the sweetness of the caramel


I'm popping in for a minute to share this recipe for salty apply cider caramels. They're perfect if you're in need of last minute gifts or just looking for a special addition to your dessert table. I seem to make a batch every week weeks from October until now, keeping them in the fridge and taking a few along here and there for hostess gifts or setting a couple out after dinner.

Speaking of gifts, I recently stumbled on this article which I think is a worthwhile read for any parent. It outlines a study that supports the idea that kids are more creative and develop a better attention span when they have fewer toys. I don't want to sound like the Grinch here, but I do think it's a good thing to keep in mind during the holidays when there is so much pressure to spend, spend, spend. Since becoming parents, Nate and I have tried to take a more minimalist approach to what we buy and keep in our home and we're all a lot happier for it. Consider it before you drive yourself nuts trying to get in that last minute shopping run this weekend. 

But back to the caramels. They start with a quart of fresh apple cider, which gets reduced down into a thick syrup. Your house will smell divine. You might want to get an extra quart just for drinking, because the scent will be hard to resist. You'll need to use some corn syrup. I've tried many versions of the recipe with other substitutes, but it's pretty difficult to get *just right* without it so for the sake of everyone having successful caramels, let's just stick with the real deal. You'll also need to get your hands on a candy thermometer. You can probably pick one up at any local kitchen store or even a hardware store. I really love this Taylor version, which is super versatile and also has a handy scan function. 

Salty Apple Cider Caramels

1 quart fresh apple cider
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
flakey sea salt

In a large, heavy bottom pot (I use my Le Creuset Dutch oven) bring the apple cider to a rolling boil. Reduce to a very low simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, until the cider is reduced to a thick syrup. Because the cider will be more viscous while hot, you may want to test by putting a small amount on a spoon and allowing to come to room temperature. It should be about the consistency of maple syrup. This process takes me about 90 minutes on my stovetop. 

Add the corn syrup, cream, sugar, and butter and bring to a rolling boil, stirring to combine the ingredients and dissolve the sugar. Try to avoid splashing too much of the granules of sugar onto the sides of the pot, or they won't become fully emulsified. Reduce to medium heat and continue to cook without stirring until your candy thermometer reads 250F. You can take it a bit further to 252F if you want a harder caramel, or 248F for a softer caramel. While the caramel is cooking, line an 8x8" baking pan with a parchment paper sling and lightly grease with butter or non-stick spray. 

When the caramel reaches your desired temperature, remove from heat and stir in the salt and cinnamon. Pour into the prepared pan. Allow to come to room temperature and sprinkle with the sea salt flakes. The salt may still dissolve into the caramel, but you'll taste it. 

I like to refrigerate my caramels for about 24 hours before I slice them. When you're ready to cut, use the parchment sling to lift the entire block of caramel onto a cutting board. Let stand for 10-15 minutes, and then use a ruler and a very sharp knife to cut into 1" squares. Wrap in squares of waxed paper. I like to store mine in the fridge for a few weeks, removing them an hour or so before serving, but they will keep at room temperature for about two weeks. 

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Peppermint and Cocoa Sheet Cake

A Christmas spin on Texas sheet cake, this cake is full of cocoa and mint and can be made days in advance. It's perfect for a crowd. 


Jack has not slept the last several nights, and consequently most of our holiday plans have gone right out the window. There were loaves of freshly baked gingerbread to be delivered to friends and neighbors, homemade marshmallows to go to the cousins, and sugar cookies galore. I had dreams of strolling along College Avenue and staring into the twinkly windows of our favorite shops while sipping cocoa. But, as tired as we are, most nights I've been happy to get dinner on the table and maybe sneak in a shower. Maybe. 

Most of my real parenting challenges over the past fifteen months have all stemmed from the same problem - trying to do too much. Being mindful of this is a constant practice, and most often the person I find it hardest to say "no" to is myself. The holidays, with all of their traditions, seem to bring this issue into focus. I find myself wondering what it means if I skip something rather than thinking about what I really feel up to doing. Is it really Christmas if I don't have eight different cookies for our cookie plate? Did I make it to enough holiday parties? It sounds ridiculous to say it out loud, but we get caught up in the pressures of making everything perfect and it's easy to overestimate what we actually want to do.  


In an effort to enjoy the season as much as we can, despite the sleepless nights and an impossibly energetic toddler, Nate and I have been taking it one day at a time. We don't make too many plans in advance, and we end up automatically deleting a few things from our "to do" lists before we even try. If we feel like driving around to look at lights one evening, we'll go, and if I feel like making the cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, I will. There are always movies and plenty of cocoa for evenings at home and bacon and eggs in the fridge for a backup breakfast. 

In the spirit of simplification, there is this cake. There's something very comforting about sheet cake. It makes no glamorous pretensions, and its main purpose in life is to serve a crowd. It's made for gathering and enjoying together. In the age of Instagram and overly styled desserts, I find that people always are a bit surprised and delighted when you pull out a sheet cake. This one is full of chocolate and mint and a cocoa fudge frosting. As a new parent, I love that it can be made a few days in advance, so you can throw it together whenever you find yourself with a few extra minutes. It's festive enough for dessert, but, not being overly sweet, it's also perfect for that afternoon cup of coffee or sharing at the office for a midmorning snack. Nate's coworkers are currently enjoying this one. Oh, and because I didn't feel like getting out the camera, I have my iPhone to thank for these photos. Simplify!


PEPPERMINT SHEET CAKE/ makes one 18x13" sheet cake, enough to feed a crowd

For the Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup coffee
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract

For the Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
1/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup crushed peppermint candies (I used about 20 of the miniature candy canes)

Center an oven rack and preheat to 350F. Grease a standard half sheet pan (18x13") and line with parchment paper. 

To make the cake, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the cocoa until fully incorporated, followed by the oil and coffee. Bring to a rolling boil fro 30 seconds, and then remove from heat and set aside to cool. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and both extracts. Pour the cocoa mixture into the bowl and stir until just combined. Add the egg mixture, and use a spatula to fold the ingredients into the batter. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. 

While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and whisk in the cocoa. Bring to a rolling boil for 30 seconds, remove from heat, and add the milk and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Off heat, add the confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time. Do not skip the step of sifting the confectioners' sugar. It's way easier to sift it than to try to work out the lumps in the frosting. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, smooth the frosting evenly over the cake and set somewhere to cool, undisturbed, Moving the cake around while the frosting is setting will cause ripples and cracks in the top. After 5-10 minutes, you can sprinkle the crushed peppermint on top (the heat from the cake may cause the colors in the candy to run if you don't wait a few minutes). 

Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. If you plan to make this in advance, wait until the day of serving to add the crushed peppermint. 

Adapted from Julie Richardson's Vintage Cakes