Best Caramel Apples

  • Serves: Makes 6 to 10 medium-size caramel covered apples
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  • Comments: 3




Caramel apples aren’t just for Fall anymore! We dressed them up for Spring and Easter. These caramel apples are perfection. 
The juxtaposition of creamy-soft caramel, crisp juicy apples and luscious toppings make a scrumptious treat that is perfect for gift giving and special occasion party favors.
They would make a tasty addition to your child’s Easter basket.

I invite you into my kitchen to make Caramel Apples! Mine are covered with a soft and chewy caramel that hardens just right on tart Granny Smith apples, which you can optionally dip in toasted nuts or chocolate, making them a sensational treat. I even make a batch or two to give away as Christmas gifts because it seems as though you can never go wrong with this special recipe. I also have a Candy Apple Recipe which is very different from this one.

Soft caramel can be tricky to make, as with any candy recipe. It takes precision and timing to get the recipes to work just right. But, I have carefully outlined every step here for you to follow, with lots of detailed explanations and pictures so you can't go wrong. I give special thanks to Chef Barry Marcus who taught me everything I needed to know about making candy recipes. 
CANDY RECIPE HELP

Orange Piggy, Premium Member, Says: "I successfully made caramel apples for the first time! Long time ago I attempted to make caramel apples but they all came out either grainy or too thick/thin to coat the apples. This time, with Sarah's recipe, they came out great and they taste sooooo good."

Test from member winkyndobby:
"Sarah---Thank you for demystifying homemade caramel for me! The detailed instructions (and pictures!) helped making this recipe effortless, fun, and PERFECT on my first try! I used Granny Smith apples, slivered and toasted almonds, and Ghirardelli Double Chocolate for dipping. 
We had a taste-testing party with several highly-rated mail-order caramel apples to test your claim of "The Best Caramel Apple Recipe". All apples tested were Caramel/Almond/Chocolate Flavor**. Tasters ranged in age from 13-52, and we had the following apples in the lineup:

1) CraftyBaking.com Recipe
2) Epicurious Recipe
3) Williams-Sonoma Recipe ($22 for 1 apple, + required overnight S&H)
4) Debritoschocolate.com ($22 for 2 apples + 33 S&H)
5) amyscandykitchen.com ($24 for 2 apples + 21 S&H) **'Caramel/almond' was closest flavor available

Judging Criteria: Fruit: Size/Flavor/Texture, Caramel: Thickness of layer, chewy texture, Flavor, Topping: Texture/Flavor, Chocolate. (also noted were consistency of product and customer service)
Results: Unanimous: CraftyBaking wins 'Best Overall Apple' !!! The caramel was a runaway winner! I never have to buy another caramel apple again! I made enough for a dozen apples, but I'm happy to say, I was so successful, that there were none of mine left to take home at the end of the night.
The price of my membership was worth this recipe alone!"

Sarah's
Secrets

Make sure you read through the recipe several times before starting and gather all of your ingredients.

INGREDIENTS
6 - 10 Granny Smith, McIntosh or Golden Delicious or any firm apples, room temperature; firm, unblemished with stems, each weighing 6-1/2 to 7 ounces
SARAH SAYS: If the apples are cold, allow them to come to room temperature, about 30 - 45 minutes. This is very important!
NOTE: When choosing your apples, interesting shapes are a GOOD thing, as they add visual appeal to the finished product. 
Just make sure that the apples sit somewhat upright when placed on a flat surface, or they may fall over after they are coated with caramel.
A little tilt is OK, though.

2 cups heavy cream (divided into 1 1/2-cups and 1/2-cup), room temperature; can use half-and-half, but do not use milk
1 1/2 cups light or dark corn syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 - 10 sturdy sticks, food safe branches, popsicle sticks, or wooden chopsticks all work great 

For Toppings:
Toppings are all optional, but they add so much flavor and beauty to the apple.
The chocolate also seals the area where the stick pierces the apple, which extends the shelf-life of the caramel apple.

1 cup chopped and toasted nuts; chop and then, measure and toast (optional)
1 cup toasted sweetened coconut
6 ounces chocolate, milk, semisweet or bittersweet
4 ounces white chocolate 

Special Equipment:
Choose a heavy-bottomed 5 - 6 quart pot with at least 4 1/2 to 5-inch sides. Don't use an insulated pan. A heavy-bottomed pan will help prevent scorching and a tall one will prevent messy boil-overs. (If you are using a gas range, take care that the flames do not rise up the sides of the pot, which would cause the mixture to burn.)

Candy thermometer: Mine is mounted on a metal frame and made by Taylor, and it works very well for this. It clips onto the side of the pan. Test it for accuracy before using: attach it to the side of a 5 to 6-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan half-full with water. Boil the water for three minutes. The thermometer should register 212 degrees F. If it doesn't, take the difference into account when reading the thermometer for this recipe or better yet, buy a new one.

Pastry Brush: Make sure it is clean and free of grease and sugar crystals.

NOTES:

Toast the nuts and/or coconut, then place them in small bowls:
Skillet or saucepan method: Place almonds in a heavy, ungreased skillet. Stir often over medium heat until golden brown; or,
Oven method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread nuts in one layer on ungreased shallow baking pan. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden.

INSTRUCTIONS
STEP I:  PREPARE THE APPLES

1. Examine each apple and discard any whose skin is broken. Carefully remove the stems.

2. Fill a sink or large bowl with lukewarm water into which a small amount of mild dishwashing liquid has been dissolved. Using a soft terry-cloth washcloth, gently wash the apples in the soapy water and rub them gently all over at the same time. This removes all traces of wax which may coat the apples. Rinse in cool running water and pat dry with a dry dishtowel.
SARAH SAYS: Make sure you also wash the apples and dry them thoroughly before dipping. Apple growers cover the apples in wax and if you don't remove it, the caramel can slide off the apples.


3. Impale each apple on a stick: insert a wooden skewer into the stem end of each apple. Push the skewer through 2/3rds of the length of each apple, taking care not to push the stick through the end.
SARAH SAYS: Make sure you always put the "sticks" into the middle of the core and not through to the other side of the apple. Otherwise, you punch a hole in the apple causing it to spoil very quickly.

If using food safe branches, follow the instructions below:
A. Cut fresh branches off a tree that is food safe.
We used APPLE twigs. There is a list of trees to avoid

B. Cut the branches into 8-inch lengths, then wash well, with warm soapy water.
Cut one end straight across with a utility knife.

C. Remove some of the extraneous side branches, flush with the branch.
Leave one or two side branches to add visual appeal. Just trim them at an angle.

D. Measure twig to 7-inches in length, and cut the other end of the branch at a sharp angle. This will be the end that you insert into the apple.




E. Set apples aside to air dry thoroughly and to warm to room temperature, otherwise the caramel won't adhere to the apple properly.

STEP II: MAKE THE CARAMEL
Combine the caramel ingredients in a certain order:
1. In a saucepan, combine 1 1/2-cups heavy cream and corn syrup.
 

2. Add the sugar in a steady stream aiming for the center of the pan. Make sure you don't get sugar on the side of the pan. Use a heatproof pastry brush dipped in cold water to get rid of unwanted crystals on the side of the pan.

3. Add the butter on top of the sugar.

4. Heat the sugar mixture to make caramel:
Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. (If you are using a gas range, take care that the flames do not rise up the sides of the pot, which would cause the mixture to burn.)
Push the sugar DOWN under the cream with a wooden spoon WITHOUT stirring the mixture.

5. Allow mixture to start boiling undisturbed. DO NOT STIR THE MIXTURE. 

6. Insert a Candy Thermometer when the mixture just starts to boil. DO NOT STIR THE MIXTURE. 
Watch the sugar solution carefully and read the thermometer frequently until the temperature registers 258 degrees F (hard ball stage), about 20 minutes.




7. Finish the caramel mixture:
A. Remove the caramel mixture from the heat and at arm’s length blend in the remaining 1/2 cup cream and vanilla extract. (Be careful - the mixture will bubble up and splatter a bit, then subside.)


B. Stir until the caramel mixture is a uniform consistency, taking care not to scrape any burned bits that might be clinging to the bottom of the pot. 
Let the caramel mixture cool for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, before dipping the apples. 
Its consistency should be fairly thick, but should still slowly flow off the spoon.


STEP III: DIP THE APPLES IN THE CARAMEL AND COMPLETE
You must work fairly quickly! If your apples are at room temperature they'll cool and thicken the caramel.
NOTE: As you get to the end of the caramel, tilt the pan so you can swirl the apple. If necessary, heat the caramel under LOW HEAT, until it is fluid and warm so you can use.
If caramel becomes too thick to dip into, add 1/2 teaspoon water and briefly whisk caramel over low heat to thin. DO NOT SCRAPE THE BOTTOM ON THE PAN.

1. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with a nonstick, Silpat mat or parchment paper or lightly grease with butter; do not use waxed paper.

2. Dip the apple into the mixture, one at a time, submerging all but very top. As you do, tip the pan and twirl the apple to get full coverage. Then, turn the apple above the pot, allowing the caramel on the apple to cool slightly and any excess to drip off back into the pan.


3. Before placing the caramel apples on the prepared baking sheet, continue to turn the apple, so the excess caramel drips back into the pan, and the caramel begins to cool and set up on the apple.
Turning the apple as the caramel cools will guarantee an even coat of caramel.


4. If using toppings, dip the bottom of the apple in the chopped nuts and/or coconut.
NOTE: We mixed the coconut and toasted almonds together, to create and Almond Joy flavor profile.

5. Stand the caramel covered apple on the prepared baking sheet, then place in the refrigerator until completely cool and set, about one hour. 
Space apples apart because caramel will pool on the bottom of each apple. Repeat with remaining apples.


Clean the pan: The pan and utensils can be cleaned easily by soaking in hot soapy water. If the caramel is really sticking to the pan, fill it with water (NOT soapy water) and boil it on the stovetop. The caramel should come off. Be careful because the water is hot!

STEP IV: GILDING THE LILY 
Adding chocolate toppings to the caramel apples takes them to the next level in both taste and appearance.
It also extends the shelf-life of the apples because it seals off the wound that was created when the sticks pierced the apples.

Similar commercial caramel apples sell for $10 and up, and you can make them for a fraction of that price!
Place the finished apples in a cellophane bag, add a pretty bow, and other embellishments and they make a perfect gift or party favor.

1. Chop the chocolate and melt it in the microwave.
Start with 30 seconds, then stir, then 20 seconds and stir again.
Finish with 10 second bursts until it is fully melted.


2. Place melted chocolate into squeeze bottles.

Take one apple out of the refrigerator, and place it on a lightly buttered plate (so the caramel won’t stick to the plate).
Starting at the junction where the stick enters the apple, squeeze out a bead of chocolate, letting it flow down the sides of the apple.

Since the apple is cold, the chocolate will set up rather quickly

We did 5 equidistant “spokes” of chocolate.


3. Add a second row of chocolate by adding another round of “spokes” in between the first row.
NOTE: Make sure the chocolate drips are varied in length, for visual interest.


4. Add a layer of white chocolate drips to finish the apples.
You can, of course, use milk and dark chocolate instead, if you do not like white chocolate.
The difference in the colors of the milk and dark chocolates will still be noticeable.

5. Place the apples back in the refrigerator to fully cool the chocolate, but do not store them there.

SERVE
To serve, slice with a large, sharp, straight-edged knife.

STORAGE
Caramel apples keep for about 1 week, stored in an airtight container (without touching) at room temperature in a cool, DRY place. 

Place the apples in a standard cupcake liner, or on a square of parchment, to make sure that they don’t stick to the bottom of the container.
Do not wrap them tightly in plastic wrap because It'll be hard to peel away without making the caramel look marred. NEVER store them in the refrigerator. The high humidity will ruin the caramel.

Unfortunately, you can't freeze whole apples and then use them for eating, especially covered with caramel.

GIFT GIVING IDEAS
For gift giving/party favors, place the finished apples in a 10-inch cellophane bags, and tie on a pretty ribbon.

If you are going to put the apples in cellophane bags, do so right after you remove them from the refrigerator. So the bag does not stick to the soft caramel.
Wired ribbon is the easiest ribbon to use because it holds its shape beautifully.
We dressed these apples up for Spring, with a sweet paper butterfly embellishment.
You can change up the colors and embellishment for any occasion or season.
It’s up to you!


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
QUESTION: My apple stuck to the wax paper. How do I get it off without ruining the smooth caramel?

SARAH SAYS: Dampen your hands lightly. Try and lift the apple from the waxed paper from the bottom of the apple. Quickly, with your dampened hands, work the caramel into shape over the bottom of the apple, covering any thin spots. You can also cover any spots with drizzled chocolate. If the pooled caramel at the bottom of the apple bothers you, you can also use damped fingers to reshape the bottom.


QUESTION: Is there any other way I can decorate my caramel covered apples?

SARAH SAYS: After the caramel has completely set and cooled, you can cover the apples with drizzled chocolate. Melt 6-ounces semi-sweet and 6-ounces white chocolate chips, separately in top of double boiler above gently simmering water; remove from heat when almost melted and stir until smooth.

Dip tines of fork in chocolate and drizzle thin, random strips of chocolate over each caramel apple. Repeat melting and drizzling with semi-sweet and white chocolate. Sprinkle chocolate with chopped nuts or candy. Place apples on wax paper covered pan and let set about 1 hour.

If you wish to dip the caramel covered apples in real chocolate, I recommend tempering about 1 pound semi-sweet chocolate so it hardens properly. Let the caramel set first. Dip in tempered chocolate twice; let set between dippings. Let chocolate semi-set and then optionally coat in chopped and toasted nuts before the chocolate sets. After enrobing in chocolate, chill in the refrigerator for about 1/2 hour and then let set at room temperature.


QUESTION: I made a batch of caramel for my apples and the whole thing crystallized. Is there any way to save it?

SARAH SAYS: Once the crystals are there, even if you reheat it the batch is "seeded" so to speak and once it resets it will be grainy. Unfortunately there's nothing you can do.

 

QUESTION: I dipped my apple in the caramel and it immediately slid off the apple. What happened?

SARAH SAYS The temperature of the coating has a bearing on how well it clings to the apples. Melted caramel that is too thick will just slide off the apples. Warm it slightly over low heat. Be careful not to make it so hot that it simmers or boils because it burns easily.

If that doesn't help, you may need to stir in a 1/2 teaspoon or so of water (not cream) at a time and then warm it while stirring. Be careful that you don’t add too much liquid. If you do, the coating will be too thin, and will remain soft at room temperature, making the apple difficult to handle and eat.

The reason you should thin your caramel with water and not cream is there's a possibility that it could separate if the mixture is close to being saturated with fat. Water is just safer in that regard, and serves the same purpose.

 

QUESTION: My caramel coating seems too thin. How can I fix it?

SARAH SAYS: If the coating is too thin, allow the mixture to cool slightly before continuing. Stirring helps cool the mixture faster.

 

QUESTION: I have a recipe to make caramel candy apples and it calls for heavy cream. Is it all right if I use whipping cream? Is it the same thing? Thanks for your help.

SARAH SAYS: Yes.

 

QUESTION Any tips on doubling or tripling the recipe?

SARAH SAYS: You can double or triple the recipe. The difficulty in dealing with larger quantities is that it'll take longer to cook and cool. Make sure you use a VERY deep and large pot and be very careful. Hot caramel is VERY dangerous and larger quantities are more so, especially when adding large quantities of cream and the mixture bubbles up and steam forms.

 

QUESTION: After the caramel has cooled in the pot can I reheat it again?

SARAH SAYS Yes, you can reheat the caramel. Just make sure it doesn't burn. Reheat it in the top of a double boiler.

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