Caramel apples are one of those things that are as much fun to make as they are to eat! I made this batch with my goddaughter Piper with apples she had picked at a nearby orchard.
The last time I made caramel apples with young Piper she was barely 4 years old, and she covered her apple with pink sprinkles.
This time, we kept our homemade caramel apples simple and unadorned, but you could easily dress them up with chopped nuts, raisins, M&Ms, or candy sprinkles.
What Kind of Apples Work Best?
For caramel apples you want an apple that is firm, tart, and crisp. Tart apples will especially help balance the sweetness of the caramel. Granny Smith, Jonagold, Cortland, Fuji, and Empire apples all work well.
For more information on which apple varieties are best for baking, check out our Guide to Apples.
That said, feel free to experiment! If you have a favorite apple that you think will work well with caramel, try it, and let us know how it works for you in the comments.
Making the Caramel From Scratch
Many recipes for caramel apples just take caramel candies and melt them to make the caramel coating. I prefer to make the caramel sauce from scratch. The taste is phenomenal (no worries about what to do with the leftover sauce, it will get eaten up quickly) and it really isn't hard to make.
It's just sugar, butter, cream, corn syrup, molasses, vanilla, and salt. It comes together right on the stovetop.
In addition to the base ingredients, the one thing you do need is an accurate candy thermometer or instant read thermometer (though at least one reader—see comments—has winged it without one).
A Word About Corn Syrup and Molasses
Why the corn syrup in the caramel? Corn syrup is an "invert sugar" that helps prevent the sugar in the caramel from crystallizing, and it also helps to soften the caramel. Dark corn syrup is bolder in flavor than light corn syrup, with molasses notes, so use it instead of light corn syrup if you can.
If you don't have access to molasses, you can substitute the sugar and molasses with one cup and one tablespoon of dark brown sugar, packed.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Caramel Apples
- Remove the wax coating: Apples from the store often have a wax coating on them which should be removed before attempting to coat them in caramel. To remove, dip the apples in boiling water mixed with a splash of vinegar for a few seconds, remove and thoroughly dry.
- Make sure apples are dry: Caramel will stick to apples best if the fruit is dry and at room temperature.
- Leave a little space near the top: Don't completely submerge your apples in the caramel. The apples will naturally out-gas near the stem, and if they are covered with caramel, bubbles will form.
- Doubling this recipe: This recipe will double easily. If you do that, use a 4-quart pot to make the sauce.
Make Ahead and Store
You can easily make the caramel apples ahead of time. Caramel apples should not be stored at room temperature. Refrigerate them and store them chilled for up to two weeks. Let them come to room temperature to serve; the caramel will be more pliable at room temp and the apples easier to eat.
More Do-It-Yourself Candied Treats!
- For the caramel:
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon dark molasses
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 6 medium apples (rinsed and patted dry, room temperature)
- For the toppings:
- Assorted decorations (such as chopped nuts, chopped raisins, mini M&M's and candy sprinkles)
Combine the caramel ingredients:
Place sugar, butter, cream, corn syrup, molasses, vanilla, and salt (omit if using salted butter) in a thick-bottomed 3 to 4-quart saucepan. Heat on medium to medium low heat and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. If you see sugar crystals on the edge of the pan, brush them down with a wet pastry brush.
Make the caramel:
Let the caramel mixture come to a rolling boil, adjusting the heat so that the caramel doesn't boil over the pan. Continue to stir in a slow figure-eight pattern with a wooden spoon.
Monitor the temperature of the caramel with a candy thermometer. When it reaches 240°F (after about 15 minutes or so of boiling), remove from heat and pour into a metal bowl.
Let the hot caramel mixture sit in the bowl until the temperature cools to just below 200°F, at which point you are ready to dip the apples.
Prep the apples:
While the caramel sauce is cooking and cooling, line a baking sheet with either Silpat or buttered aluminum foil.
Insert the sticks (either lollipop sticks, thick wooden skewers, or chopsticks) into the center of the apples through the stem end.
The caramel sauce will thicken as it cools. When the cooling caramel sauce has thickened enough so that the caramel will form a coating on the apples and not just slide off, dip the apples into the caramel, one at a time.
Swirl each apple around in the sauce so that the caramel sauce completely coats the apple, except for the very top near the stick.
Pull the apple up from the sauce and let the excess caramel gently drip back into the bowl.
Place the coated apple onto the lined baking sheet. Some caramel sauce will form a little pool at the base of each apple. Repeat with the remaining apples, then refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Press caramel up against the sides of the apples:
Once the caramel has chilled 15 minutes and is cool enough to touch but still malleable, remove from the refrigerator and press the caramel that has pooled at the bottom of the apples up against the side of the apples.
If you are using coatings such as sprinkles or chopped nuts, roll the caramel apples in them now. Then return the apples to the refrigerator and chill for at least another hour.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. Let the apples come to room temperature before eating. The caramel apples will last 2 weeks chilled.
If giving as gifts, wrap them in plastic wrap.