Caramel Apples

Caramel candy apples are one of those things that are as much fun to make as they are to eat. I helped out at a young friend’s birthday party this week, making up a batch of these caramel apples for a flock of kids. (Original recipe from Epicurious.) Of note, none of the kids went for the pecan topping (what’s up with kids not liking nuts?), they preferred the M&Ms, raisins, and candy sprinkles. Each got to dip his or her own apple and decorate it.

Caramel Apples Recipe

  • Yield: Makes 12 caramel apples.

Ingredients

  • 1 1-pound box dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon robust-flavored (dark) molasses
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 sturdy lollipop sticks or chopsticks
  • 12 medium apples
  • Assorted decorations (such as chopped nuts, chopped raisins, mini M&M's and candy sprinkles)
  • Equipment needed - one accurate candy thermometer.

Method

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1 Combine sugar, butter, condensed milk, corn syrup, maple syrup, vanilla, molasses and salt in a thick-bottomed 2 1/2 or 3 quart saucepan. Stir with a wooden spoon on medium-low heat until all the sugar dissolves. There should be no grittiness (sugar crystals) when you test by rubbing a little of the caramel between your fingers. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals that might form on the pan sides.

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2 Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to the pan and cook caramel at a rolling boil until the thermometer reaches 236°F, stirring constantly and slowly with a wooden spatula. Continue to occasionally brush the sides down with a pastry brush. Carefully pour caramel into a metal bowl. Cool until the temperature lowers to 200°F, at which point you are ready to dip the apples.

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3 While the caramel is cooking/cooling, prepare a large baking sheet, covering it either with buttered aluminum foil or silpat. Insert a chopstick or sturdy lollipop stick into each apple, about 2-inches, top down, into the apple core.

4 When the caramel has cooled enough for dipping, dip the apples in, one by one, by holding on to the stick, and vertically lowering the apple into the caramel, submerging all but the very top of the apple. Pull the apple up from the caramel and let the excess caramel drip off from the bottom back into the pan. Then place on the silpat or prepared foil. The caramel will pool a little at the bottom of each apple. Place into the refrigerator to chill for at least 15 minutes.

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5 Once the caramel has chilled a bit, remove from the refrigerator and use your fingers to press the caramel that has dripped to the bottom of the apples, back on to the apples. Then take whatever coatings you want and press them into the apples for decoration. Return to the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.

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41 Comments

  1. Morazan

    Do you have any recommendations as to which type of apple to use? I would think something with a thin skin would be best…and maybe on the sour side?

  2. Rhonda

    Granny Smith apples are the best to use, as they hold up well to the heat of the caramel, and are nice and crisp. But I have been wanting to use some big Crispin apples for them (they are a bit sweeter than Granny Smith, but just as crisp). Also, if you soak your apples in very hot water for about 15 -20 minutes, it will force any gases in the apple out, and you won’t get alot of bubbles.

  3. jonathan

    Kids choosing M&M’s and sprinkles over pecans? Who would’ve guessed? ;-)

    Maybe next time we try the Sugared Pecans recipe on this site, chop ‘em into little bits, and tell the little darlings they’re “candy crunchies”.

    Ahhh….reminds me of mom hiding the peas in my mashed potatoes…

  4. Kyleen

    Is it possible to substitute sugar syrup, or increase the amounts of brown sugar and maple syrup, so as not to have to use corn syrup at all?

  5. Lady Amalthea

    Oh, yum. I have to get a good candy thermometer and make these. Maybe for Hallowe’en? Hmm. Now there’s an idea.

  6. Ari

    I’m pretty sure you can’t take out the corn syrup – it’s an alton brown thing. The corn syrup is a different kind of sugar and helps prevent crystalization when you’re heating things up. I hear it’s really easy to get crystalization if things aren’t totally clean, smooth, and pure. Anyway, unless you want rock candy coated apples, I think the corn syrup should stay.

  7. Elise

    Here’s another recipe for making caramel sauce: caramel sauce recipe, which only calls for sugar, butter, and cream. I just thought it was going to be a little too runny to use on the apples. Refrigerated it is pretty firm, however. If you are avoiding corn syrup, you might try that.

  8. KS

    FYI, someone posted about this same recipe over at shelterrific.com.

  9. Tanya

    My family owns a small confectionary store and a big thing when dipping the apples is to make sure they are dry and at room temp. Otherwise the caramel will slide right off. We also dip them in the nuts and toppings right away. They stick better.
    P.S. We use Granny Smiths. The tart and sweet are wonderful together.

  10. Debbie

    Not to be Debbbie Downer over here, but caramel apples can be dangereous for kids with loose teeth. I lost my two front teeth to a caramel apple when i was six, and they weren’t even loose, and it was really painful. But they do look delicious!

  11. Luv2Cook

    Wow…they look so yummy, Elise…

    On a serious note, you’ve got me curious about why kids didn’t care for the nuts…I loved nuts growing up..hmmm….

  12. Jake

    This looks great for a party! Just one silly question – how best to clean up all that caramel??

  13. Ari (Baking and Books)

    Oh wow, those not only look amazing but they make me feel so “into the season” if that makes any sense. :)

  14. Skyler

    Could one use light corn syrup in replacement of dark corn syrup? I’m not even sure of the difference…

  15. Steve

    These turned out great. The caramel was delicious. One tip I have is make sure to use a non-stick pan for easy clean up.

    One complaint I have is that this caramel gets super sticky at room temp. Most caramel apples I’ve eaten aren’t this sticky. Is there a way to fix this? Maybe less butter?

  16. Elise

    Hi Luv2Cook – Regarding kids and nuts, who knows? I’m flummoxed when I encounter this nut aversion. I devoured nuts as a kid.

    Hi Jake – Caramel cleans up pretty easily with hot water.

    Hi Skyler – Re: dark syrup versus light syrup, who knows? Dark syrup probably has a bit more flavor. But I doubt it will ruin your caramel to use light syrup.

    Hi Steve – Regarding stickiness at room temp, caramel apples should be chilled for an hour before eating. Caramel is naturally sticky at room temp. The only kind of caramel that isn’t sticky at room temp is the store bought caramels that are loaded with additives for the very purpose of keeping them solid (like margarine is solid oil).

  17. ELLIE

    How long do the caramel apples stay good? So many places have the gourmet ones for sale. If we made them could we make them a few days ahead? Thanks.

  18. Lizeth

    What can I use instead of molasses? I can’t find it.

  19. Denzil

    Is there a reason for not submerging the apple completely in the caramel?

  20. Steve

    Hi ELLIE,

    This may sound kinda gross, but my friend will eat anything.

    I made these on Halloween 2006. I gave one to my buddy and he kept it in the fridge and forgot about it until a couple days ago. I don’t know why but he gave it a try and it was still good. The apple was still crisp.

    Now would I recommend this, absolutely not, but my point is they stay good for a while.

  21. Sarah

    My friend is making caramel apples for her wedding favors in october of 2007. how many days ahead of time should we make them in order to guarantee that they stay fresh?

  22. april

    For anyone still wondering why kids aren’t into nuts these days, I have a theory. Many pediatricians are recommending that kids don’t try nuts untill age 5, due to possible allergies. Many schools are now “nut free”, because at least one of the students has such an allergy. So many children have had few opportunities to get used to nuts’ texture/taste.

  23. Kristy P.

    This Web-site is very helpful when your hosting a Halloween Birth-day for an 8 year old girl! all of her friends loved it and enjoyed the apples! I’m 27 and i enjoyed them! I did use the nuts but as you said some kids just don’t like nuts, but everything worked out and they all had a wonderful time i will definly use this web-site next year again!

    Thankyou,
    Kristy P.

  24. rizky arbali

    Do we need to use maple syrup? Its pretty hard to find here in Indonesia.

  25. bonggai

    Hi. Are fuji apples okay for this recipe? and are there other alternative for molasses and maple syrup?

    Note from Elise: Yes, Fuji apples are fine for this recipe. Regarding molasses and maple syrup, if you don’t have any, I would try substituting corn syrup.

  26. Sialia

    The best caramel apple I ever had was an Empire apple, but they’re hard to get outside of upstate New York.

    Grannys, Cortlands and Fujis will work well too–you want something crisp, firm and a little tart.

  27. nikki s

    I just wanted to thank you, Elise for all your hard work on this recipe! It’s truly amazing, and really helped a lot at my party. Everyone loved them, and some even asked for the recipe.

    Thanx;)

  28. BONNIE

    I also want to use these for wedding shower favors. How many days can I make them ahead and how can they be stored?

    Honestly, I don’t know. I wouldn’t make these more than a couple of days ahead, and I would store them in the refrigerator. ~Elise

  29. Phil

    I love the recipe as well, I had one problem, my caramel seemed to want to run off the apples, it doesn’t look that thick and bunched up on the plate below the apple. Did I not put enough of something in?

    Thanks,
    Phil

  30. Shannon

    So after making your delightful caramel corn recipe, I decided to give these a go. They’re fantastic. I only had 10 smallish apples, so i ended up double dipping each one. They weren’t as pretty, but after being covered in chopped, salted peanuts, they looked (and tasted) downright fantastic.

    So now that you are officially my guru of all things caramel, I want to know if you have any suggestions as to how to turn this buttery deliciousness into a sticky, almost break your teeth toffee candy. Something along the lines of Thornton’s irish toffee. Maybe if I cook it longer/ let it reach hard ball stage? I am open to any and all suggestions.

    Thanks!

  31. Lisa

    I made this recipe using 1/2 dark and 1/2 light corn syrup and they were still darker than “normal” caramel apples. I personally like the darker color and only used light corn syrup because I ran out of dark. I also did not have a candy thermometer and followed the following timing: rolling boil for 12 minutes and cool caramel in a metal bowl for 20 minutes. The caramel turned out delicious! So if you don’t have a candy thermometer, don’t let it deter you from making this snack!

  32. Suzanne in TN

    OH MY GOSH is all I can say about this caramel recipe! My changes: I used raw sugar in place of the brown sugar, used light corn syrup instead of dark and used salted butter since that is all I had and these were fantastic! I used a silpat and a couple of lightly buttered paper plates to put apples on in fridge. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe! I will be making these again very soon!

  33. Diana from Virginia

    YUM! The caramel is delicious and fool-proof. I am not a cook and couldn’t manage the pastry brush trick but they still worked out delightfully yummy. Craft sticks worked really well for me (like popsicle sticks) and I had more than enough caramel for 15 apples and some to save for ice cream. I tried the soaking in hot water to release bubbles, but then the apples were not so pretty, but then just cover them in caramel! I had leftover caramel and dipped non-hot- watered apples and they looked prettier on the tops. The caramel was so sticky and yummy! Thank you!

  34. Krystin

    I live in the UK, so proper caramel apples don’t really exist for me anymore. I wanted something that wasn’t too runny and tasted like the Kraft caramels I was used to, only better. This surpassed my expectations!

    I had trouble getting corn syrup as it’s not available unless you get a food delivery with Ocado, which I did. They only had light corn syrup, which was fine. I didn’t have a thermometer of any kind so I did the rolling boil for 12 minutes and cooled for 20. It worked perfectly! I used one of those spatulas that can handle heat up to 500F (Williams and Sonoma) bypassing the pastry brush trick. All in all, really easy and my colleagues loved them!!

  35. Cynthia

    I wish I read this blog completely before I made a large batch for a wedding because I wondered why I got so many bubbles. Does heating the apples in hot water to release the gases shorten the shelf life of the apple? For all those asking questions about making these as favors I started making the apples the Wednesday before the wedding but did the majority of them on Friday (for a Saturday wedding). I would say the ones done on Wednesday were still quite good; however I didn’t dip all of them completely to the top and you could see the green skin of the granny smith was starting to brown. If they had been totally submerged this wouldn’t have been noticeable.

  36. melissa

    I made this recipe for a fall get-together (bonfire and all!). It was a wonderful treat that everyone loved! I’ve heard the apple makes this a “healthy” treat so there’s no guilt in indulging! ;)

  37. Michael Barakat

    Hi All,

    Michael here. This is a great recipe. It’s also relatively easy and very quick for the quality of the end result. After consideration, my wife and I would like to make a couple of suggestions for others to try. We preferred using a slightly more tart variety of apple. Initially we had used Honeycrisps – much too sweet for my liking with the caramel. Johnamac’s on the other hand were very tasty – their sweetness and slightly tart character worked well with the caramel. I would also suggest salting the caramel apples just before eating. if you ever had a chocolate pretzel you know how good sweet and salty can go together.

  38. Chandell

    I appreciate that you listed a temperature to cool the caramel to, in order to start dipping the apples! That’s what I came here to hopefully find, and I found it! That temp was perfect, even for the homemade caramel recipe that I used, which wasn’t this one. Thanks a lot, I appreciate your attention to detail!

  39. Lisa Baisch

    A quick question for all the caramel makers out there… The old recipe I have for caramels reads to boil until 248 (soft ball stage). Does cooking to 236 (as this recipe reads) produce a less tacky caramel? My caramels taste great but they’ll pull a filling right out of your tooth. I know that natural caramel will always be tacky, just wondering if I’m making it worse by over cooking. Thanks!

  40. Kyle

    For anyone who was wondering what apple to use for caramel Apples.
    As an owner of an Apple orchard in Canada the best apple for candy / caramel apples is “EMPIRE”

    Great size, slight tartness, and holds up extremely well when used for cooking :)

    Enjoy

  41. CuriousGeorge

    Hi, just wondering if this can be made ahead of time and reheated the evening we have our harvest party? Or do you have to make and use right away ?

    I have found that if you make ahead and then reheat, that the caramel sauce can crystallize, which you definitely do not want. But you could try it. Maybe it won’t crystallize for you. ~Elise

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