Caramel apples are one of my favorite fall treats. They're ooey, gooey, a little messy (okay, sometimes a lot messy), and downright fun to eat. Crisp apples covered with a thick layer of rich, sweet, homemade caramel — let's face it, fall and Halloween just aren't complete without them.
Making Homemade Caramel
Step away from the bag of soft caramel candies: The very best caramel apples involve homemade caramel. Now, if you've never made homemade caramel, it can feel a little intimidating. (It certainly was for me the first time I made it.) But here's the thing: it's not at all.
In the time it would take you to unwrap a whole bag of soft caramel candies, you'll be well on your way to a homemade version, which will look — and more importantly taste — even better. Plus you can choose how long you cook your caramel sauce. Do you prefer a light, buttery-tasting caramel coating? Cook the sugar until it just starts to turn amber. How about a darker, richer "burnt" caramel sauce? Cook it until you see the first wisp of smoke.
→ Read More: How To Make Caramel Sauce
Pick Your Favorite Apple
If you still have fruit left from your apple picking haul, I first of all congratulate you because I tore through mine in a matter of days. Now's the time to put those remaining apples to use. Otherwise, hit the grocery store or farmers market, and pick up some of your favorite variety.
While certain apple varieties work better than others when it comes to cooking and baking, that rule doesn't apply with caramel apples — any type will work. My favorites are Golden Delicious, Cortland, and Empire.
→ Read more: 15 of the Best Apples to Eat out of Hand
Smaller Apples Are Better
The only suggestion I do make is to stick with using small- to medium-sized apples. Giant caramel apples look totally impressive, but they're really difficult and messy to eat. You may also have an issue with the stick supporting a heavier apple.
More Tips for Caramel Apple Success
Be sure to use a sturdy stick to support the apples. I suggest something like popsicle sticks, chopsticks, or wooden skewers, which can all support the weight of a medium-sized apple.
Perhaps it feels like one coat of caramel isn't quite enough? I'm with you! The more caramel, the better. After dipping and chilling the apples, go ahead and dip them in the caramel again. If it feels like the caramel has firmed up too much, heat it for a minute or two over low heat to make it soft and easier to work with.
How To Make Caramel Apples
Makes 6 to 8
What You Need
6 to 8 small- to medium-sized apples, any variety
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
Chopped nuts, sprinkles, crushed cookies, mini chocolate chips, or other toppings (optional)
Instant-read or candy thermometer
Popsicle sticks, chopsticks, or wooden skewers
Parchment or wax paper
- Heat the butter and cream: Combine the butter and cream in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat.
- Combine and cook the sugar, corn syrup, and water: Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan, and stir so the sugar is evenly moistened. Over medium-high heat, bring the sugar syrup to a boil without stirring. Continue cooking until an instant-read or candy thermometer reads 320°F for a lighter caramel coating, or up to 350°F for a dark caramel coating. Around this time, the sugar will begin to darken and take on a caramel aroma. If necessary, tilt the pan slightly so the thermometer is submerged enough to get an accurate reading. The sugar syrup will significantly grow in size in the next step, so it's important that you do not substitute a smaller saucepan.
- Whisk in the cream and butter: Remove the saucepan with the sugar syrup from the heat, and gradually pour the warm cream and butter into the sugar syrup, whisking constantly. The sugar syrup with bubble up and grow in size. Continue whisking until all the cream and butter and has incorporated.
- Cool the caramel: Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool the caramel for at least 15 minutes, until it has thickened. You can leave it in the pot or transfer it to a separate bowl.
- Prepare the apples: Meanwhile, remove the stems from the apples. Insert popsicle sticks (or chopsticks or wooden skewers) into the stem end of the apples. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper, and spray with a thin coating of cooking spray.
- Dip apples: Holding the stick, dip and roll the apples in the melted caramel, up to 1/2 inch from the stem.
- Remove excess caramel: Let any excess caramel drip off, then transfer the apples to the lined baking sheet.
- Roll in toppings (optional): Roll the apples in toppings — like chopped nuts, sprinkles, chocolate chips, and crushed cookies — if you plan to do so.
- Refrigerate the apples: Transfer the baking sheet with the apples to the refrigerator, and chill until the caramel is set, about 45 minutes.
- If you have leftover caramel and want to add a second layer on the apples after they've cooled, warm the caramel over low heat, stirring occasionally just until it's soft. Then dip the apples again, allowing any excess caramel to drip off, and refrigerate until set.
- Store the caramel apples on a plate or baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.