I have been trying to make caramel apples since I was a kid. We didn’t have the Internet back then (gasp!), so if my Mom didn’t have a recipe for something, we couldn’t make it!
I kept on asking her if we could make them though, so one time Mom bought some sheets of caramel from the grocery store. Of course the picture on the label showed perfect caramel apples. You were supposed to wrap one caramel sheet around an apple, smoothing it out as you went. . . fail! Not only did the square sheets not drape nicely on the round apples, but they didn’t seem to want to stick, either.
When I was older, I found a recipe and tried it. The caramel sauce seemed too thin though, and it just slid right off of the apples. I concluded that there must be some secret that only professional candymakers knew, or some special machine they used, and gave up. . .
. . . until this year. I kept on seeing caramel apple recipes on Pinterest, and Michaels was selling cute plastic sticks that looked like tree branches, as well as paper cups and other accessories for attractively wrapping individual apples to give as gifts. Then my Mom told me I was in charge of bringing dessert to the family Thanksgiving dinner, and I decided: I was going to make caramel apples, and it was going to WORK this time!!
I read as many recipes as I could find on Pinterest, and discovered that most of them are identical. A couple of blogs were especially helpful though: Cindy Larkin’s post on eighteen25 is full of beautiful pictures and an excellent recipe, and NoBiggie has the same recipe, plus great tips for ensuring success.
To make things easy for you, my readers, I have combined their ideas into one post, and added a few tips of my own. Without further ado, I present:
THE BEST CARAMEL APPLES
Makes about 18 apples, dependent on the size of your apples
• 14-18 apples of your choice (I like Organic Red Delicious, but the tang of a Granny Smith is also great)
• 14-18 wooden apple sticks
• 1 cup salted butter
• 2 cups fair trade brown sugar
• 1 can sweetened condensed milk
• 1 cup dark corn syrup
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• Toppings of your choice (I used 1 bar of Green & Black’s dark chocolate, 1 bar of Green & Black’s white chocolate, some dry-toasted pecan pieces, and Wilton Sprinkles ‘Micro Leaves’)
Remove the stems and stickers from your apples. Wash them in soapy water to remove the wax coating, as well as any germs and pesticide residues. I use Nature Clean Fruit & Veggie Soak Concentrate for all of my produce, and I follow the instructions on the bottle. Rinse the apples, dry them, and insert the sticks. Please do NOT use popsicle/craft sticks, as they are quite painful to hold firmly for any length of time while eating a finished apple. Michaels sells wooden apple sticks quite cheaply, and you can also find thin dowels in the craft section of most dollar stores that would work.
Place a silicone baking mat on a rimmed cookie sheet (to catch any drips), or line the cookie sheet with parchment paper and grease it with butter if you don’t have a silicone mat. Set the apples on the cookie sheet, and stick the whole thing in the freezer while you prepare the caramel sauce. (Having the apples cold will help the caramel to set faster).
Put the next four ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted and everything is combined. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture is boiling.
Once a boil is reached, reduce heat by degrees so that a boil is maintained, but the mixture does not boil over. Stir occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning. Boil until the mixture reaches 115 degrees C or 235-240 degrees F on a Candy Thermometer. This is right between soft ball and firm ball stage, and I found it to be absolutely perfect. Your sauce should be a nice, deep caramel colour.
Turn off the heat, but keep the pan on the burner. Stir in the vanilla.
Take your cookie sheet of apples out of the freezer. Wipe the condensation off of each apple with a dry cloth or towel immediately before dipping. This is the trick to make sure the caramel sticks!
When you dip the apples, turn or swirl them to distribute the caramel evenly, and allow the excess to drip back into the pan. Stand the dipped apples on the silicone mat or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, being careful not to let them touch each other. If, at any time during the dipping, the caramel sauce seems to be getting too thick and difficult to work with, simply turn the stove burner to low and let it warm up a bit. When all of the apples have been covered, place the cookie sheet in the fridge for a good hour to help the caramel set.
If you are not decorating your caramel apples with chocolate, you can dip them in nuts or sprinkles immediately after coating them in caramel (before you refrigerate them). Simply have your toppings in a bowl and gently press the apple into them, being very careful not to touch the bowl! If the caramel touches the dish, it will stick to it right away, peel off of the apple, and make a very big mess.
Sprinkles can also be, well, sprinkled on! I found that if I put a bunch of sprinkles at the top of the apple, where the stick is inserted, they kind of naturally spread out and down the sides with the caramel as it migrates a bit before it is fully cool. If you want a very thick, dense layer of sprinkles, dip your apples using the technique described above.
To add a chocolate drizzle, I first put my chocolate in a bowl over simmering hot water in a pot on the stove. Once it was all melted, I removed the bowl from the water, and then simply used a small spoon to scoop the chocolate up and drizzle it around. If you want to add sprinkles or nuts, do it while the chocolate is still warm and in its liquid state. Do not put the apples back in the fridge once they have been decorated with chocolate. I made that mistake, and I got little white spots of fat bloom on my dark chocolate. D’oh! Just let them cool at room temperature.
A couple of other tips: See the cute little plastic sticks I used, and the non-stick paper cups, both Wilton brand? Terrible. Because the sticks were plastic, they didn’t “grip” the apples the way wooden sticks would have (because wood is rougher, and swells when it gets wet). The sticks were literally falling out while people were trying to eat their apples, especially when they attempted to remove their apples from the “non-stick” cups. The caramel had totally stuck, and, in fact, half of it ripped off during the removal process. Epic fail, Wilton! Next time, I will use real wood sticks, and squares of parchment paper. Don’t waste your money on the fancy stuff, because it doesn’t even work!
All that being said, I was SO happy with how my caramel apples turned out. Finally: Success! I’m going to make these every year for sure, and I’m excited to try new toppings. NoBiggie’s Apple Pie Caramel Apples sound great, and The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory makes apples covered with Smarties, chopped-up bits of chocolate bars like Snickers, toffee bits, peanuts, almonds, mini marshmallows, and my personal favourite: Cookies ‘n’ Cream (white chocolate with Oreo crumbs). YUM!
I think I will also try adding the toppings on the bottom halves of the caramel apples next time. I love the look of the decorated tops when they are sitting on display, but putting sprinkles or nuts or whatever on the bottoms would probably help prevent the sticking-to-the-paper issue. And, after all, bottom becomes top when you pick the apple up to eat it!
Here’s one last piece of eye candy: