When the days grow shorter and the air is cooler, there’s no mistaking what time it is: apple harvest season.
After a day in the orchard—or a quick trip through the produce aisle at the grocery store—all you need to transform your apples into a very special treat is a heavy pot, a candy thermometer and a bit of patience—no prefab candies required.
Apple selection is critical for the best caramel apples. For contrast, choose a variety that’s firm and not too sweet. You want a contrast between the crisp, tart apple and the soft, chewy caramel. The Granny Smith is a good choice. Jonathans, while not quite as firm, are also suitable.
If you aren’t a fan of tart apples, Jonagolds are a good compromise—still crunchy and sweeter than Jonathans—but not as sweet as Fuji or Red and Yellow Delicious (which are too sweet to pair with a caramel coating—save them for plain snacking).
Finally, size matters. Smaller apples are better choices, despite the huge caramel apple specimens you find in candy shop windows.
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 stick butter
- 8-12 tart apples
- 2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
You’ll need a candy thermometer, craft (popsicle) sticks for the apples and a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan.
Line a cookie sheet (or two) with buttered or nonstick-sprayed waxed paper. Place near the stove. Skewer the apples with popsicle sticks. Have a candy thermometer nearby and prepare to be at the stove for the next 45 minutes to an hour.
Combine the sugars, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk and butter in a heavy saucepan.
Heat slowly over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and the mixture has just begun to lightly boil.
Stir the mixture constantly. Use a melt-proof, flat-bottomed spatula and keep the caramel moving at all times. Get into a rhythm: 2 full pan-side-clearing strokes clockwise, three back-and-forth bottom-clearing stroke; 2 side-clearing strokes counterclockwise, 3 strokes to cover the bottom. Repeat. You may need to call in backup if your arm gets tired. That’s OK; just don’t stop stirring.
After the mixture reaches a light boil, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil until the caramel reaches 236 degrees. During the final three to four minutes, between 232 and 236, you will see a distinct change in the color and opacity of the caramel. It will transform from a cloudy light brown to a semi-transparent dark amber.
The moment the candy thermometer hits 236, immediately turn off the heat (if you have an electric stove, move the pan to a different burner) and begin dipping apples in the hot caramel, one at a time. Immerse each apple nearly to the stick, swirl, and let excess caramel drip back into the pan for a few seconds.
At this point, rolling the apple in ground or chopped nuts is an option, but may require a helper to keep things moving quickly. The caramel will set within 5-10 minutes, and you want to make sure you get all the apples coated before that happens. (You can also place the pan in a larger bowl of very hot water to extend working time.)
Place each apple on the greased waxed paper, a few inches apart. The last apple or two will need some help getting caramel on top. Use a wooden spoon. Separate the apples by cutting apart the waxed paper.
A whole caramel apple is definitely an indulgence, at 415 calories. But the good news, just a slice or two of this sweet-tart treat will satisfy almost every sweet tooth while maintaining a healthy portion size. Hold the apple by the stick and cut it into quarters or sixths—perfect for sharing.
Nutrition Information for 1 Caramel Apple
(Assuming 1 recipe makes 12 apples)