I am a caramel apple fan from way back. If I had my druthers, I’d only ever eat apples blanketed in caramel. The combo of the juicy, tart apple and the salty/sweet and chewy candy is unparalleled. Yet, despite my enthusiasm for them, making my own caramel apples never even crossed my mind. That is, until I ended up at a harvest festival (against my will) with my taste-testers, and I bought them each a candied apple. Now, to say said apples were disappointing, is generous. They were bordering on inedible. The apples made their way into the garbage and I made my way into a story about how much I loved buying caramel apple “kits” from the grocery store when I was little and making them at home. (For the uninitiated, the kits include round sheets of caramel that you wrap around apples and heat in the oven briefly.) Long story short, begging for kits immediately ensued, and promises of homemade caramel apples quickly followed.
Caramel apple internet research began in earnest. And, predictably, there was no shortage of recipes (see here for one that’s been hanging around for over a decade, and here for one that appeared more recently). I spent some time with this recipe and learned much about caramel apple dipping technique. With this one, I learned about how long to cook my caramel for a proper toothsome coating, and this one gave me some insight into just how simple the ingredients and manner of cooking can be. I neglected to follow suit, however, and chose to add two kinds of sugar, plus condensed milk, among other things, to my caramel, and cooked it using a thermometer, but I still appreciate knowing how else it can be done.
Now, I’m not going to lie here, folks, I struggled a bit with the making of the caramel (see here for proof of that). All the versions were tasty, but some were too thin and oozy and dripped off of the apples, some were too thick and hardened up into a tooth-breakingly hard-candy of sorts, and a few i just plain burned. (Note to self: when making caramel, sweetened condensed milk should not be combined with the sugar and water during the initial cooking process, but should be added, along with the cream and butter prior to the second stage of cooking.)
Lucky for you, however, that I spent so much time tweaking, as the recipe is now not only foolproof (perfectly soft for biting, perfectly firm for holding its shape), but beyond delish AND likely to give a store-bought kit a run for its money (but that likely comes as no surprise).
Salty Caramel Apples
- 8 apples I like Granny Smith because they are so tart, washed and dried and at room temp
- 4 wooden chopsticks cut in half, or 4 sticks of your choosing
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup dark corn syrup you can use light, if that is all you have
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 5 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp Maldon sea salt or another flaky sea salt, plus more for decorating (optional)
- Place the apples upright on a cookie tray lined with parchment. Remove the stems and insert a chopstick-half in each apple.
- Combine the sugars, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan, preferably one that is tall and skinny. Stir the mixture, being mindful not to splash the sides of the pan with sugar, and place it over medium to medium-high heat.
- Once the mixture boils, attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and bring the mixture to 245 to 248 degrees (firm ball). While cooking, use a wet pastry brush to wash off any crystalizing sugar on the sides of your pan. Do not stir.
- Meanwhile, place the heavy cream, condensed milk and butter in a small saucepan, and warm this mixture on medium heat. Do not let it boil or simmer and continue to keep the mixture warm, while melting the sugars, etc.
- Once the sugars reach firm ball, remove the pan from the heat and add the warm cream mixture, being careful as you add it, as the caramel may splatter and bubble. Gently stir the caramel with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, and return it to medium to medium-high heat. Continue cooking the caramel until it reaches firm ball again. Do not stir. This may take a while — up to 20 minutes or longer, if your flame is at medium. I tried to find something between medium and medium high (I have an induction cooktop, so this is a bit easier than on a gas stovetop).
- Once it reaches temperature, immediately remove the caramel from the heat and add the vanilla and salt. Stir to combine and whisk aggressively to cool the mixture. Once slightly cooled and thickened, begin dipping the apples.
- Dip an apple into the caramel, about 3/4 of the way to the top, turning it by the stick to coat evenly. Keep the apple upside down and let the caramel run off of the apple, back into the pan, for about 30 to 60 seconds. Then turn the apple upright, and wait an additional 30 to 60 seconds for the caramel to settle on the apple. Place the caramel coated apple back on the parchment-lined sheet, stick side up, and continue dipping the rest of the apples. You may have leftover caramel (lucky you!). Once all the apples are coated, sprinkle them with flaky sea salt, if you so desire. Place the tray in the refrigerator for about a half an hour or so, until the caramel is set.
- The apples may need to soften a bit on the counter before eating, depending on how firm the caramel becomes while in the fridge.
- Store uneaten caramel apples in the refrigerator for up to a week.