Made-From-Scratch Caramel Apples Recipe

A caramel that's thick enough to generously coat the apple, but soft enough to bite through.

Close up view of caramel apples on a tray.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Using a two-stage cooking method lets you customize the degree of caramelization without sacrificing consistency.
  • A 1:1 ratio of sugar and cream keeps the caramel tender, so the apples are easy to eat.
  • Cold apples shock the caramel, for a thick, quick-set coating.

Hypothetically, caramel apples are nothing more than flawless seasonal produce paired with the simplest homemade candy. Done right, they're a study in contrast, every juicy bite of apple offset by the earthy richness of caramel, sophisticated in its composition but presented humbly on a stick.

If only the reality were always so grand. All too often, ginormous apples derail the fruit-to-caramel ratio and force you to unhinge your jaw like a snake to manage that first bite. Then your teeth are plunged into icy-cold fruit, locked in place by caramel so chewy it entails a full-body workout. And when that caramel starts to feel like wax on your tongue, you know you've been given a mouthful of corn syrup and palm oil instead of the real deal.

Caramel apples may be a hit-or-miss proposition when store-bought, but they're a thing of beauty when made from scratch. That isn't to say that any homemade caramel will do, because not all recipes are fit for dipping. In fact, most aren't.

Too rich, and the caramel will slide off the apples as if they're coated in Teflon; too lean, and you'll chip a tooth. Cook it too briefly, and you'll wind up with caramel sauce; cook it too long, and you've got homemade Milk Duds.

Like Goldilocks' bed, the perfect caramel is all about getting things just right.

As with my basic caramel, this recipe starts by dissolving sugar in water, which is boiled away to caramelize the sugar. This method offers lots of control, allowing you to stop at a light honey gold to keep the flavor mild and butterscotch-y, or develop the roasted, bitter notes that accompany darker shades.

Once the caramel color's just right, whatever that means to you, it's combined with an equal weight of chilled cream to halt the cooking process. From there, the caramel is boiled until it reaches 250°F (121°C), driving off enough liquid to make a thick candy, but not so much that it becomes brittle or crisp.

Using a blue popsicle stick as a handle to dip a green apple into a metal bowl of caramel.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Since it takes a reasonably large pot to contain the bubbling cream, once the foam subsides, the caramel itself is too shallow for dipping. For that reason, I pour the finished caramel into a small heat-safe bowl. That transition also helps speed up the cooling process. You want the caramel nice and thick, but still warm enough for dipping—about 212°F (100°C).

If it gets much cooler, it'll be too thick to dip, but a great way to speed the cooling process without losing that dippable consistency is to start with cold apples. This is easy if you store them in the fridge anyway, but even giving them an hour will help tremendously.

When the warm caramel hits the cold apple, it will begin to set almost immediately. That means less dripping, and more caramel on, rather than under, your apples. (I haven't had a problem with the caramel getting too cold, but if it does, a short zap in the microwave should loosen it back up.)

Because apples come in all shapes and sizes, the number you're able to dip can vary considerably from batch to batch, but expect between eight and 12 small apples. (I like to avoid larger ones, which are tricky to eat.)

Once they're dipped, you can roll the candy-coated apples in crushed peanuts or other toppings, but I love them best plain and simple—particularly with the autumn sunshine on my skin, because what's the point of a stick if you don't take that apple outside?

October 2016

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 45 mins
Serves: 8 to 12 servings

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Ingredients

  • 8 to 12 small apples, refrigerated until cold

  • 4 ounces water (1/2 cup; 115g)

  • 9 ounces sugar (1 1/3 cups; 255g)

  • 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight

  • 9 ounces heavy cream (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 255g), chilled (see notes)

Directions

  1. Skewer apples with popsicle sticks, then return to fridge. In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water, sugar, and salt over medium heat. Stir with a fork until sugar is fully dissolved and syrup comes to a rolling boil, about 4 minutes. Simmer, without stirring, until syrup is honey-gold, roughly 9 minutes.

    Collage of sugar and water bubbling and foaming in a pot to make caramel sauce
  2. Immediately add cream (the mixture will sputter) and reduce heat to medium-low, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula, until caramel registers 250°F (121°C) on a digital thermometer, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a small heat-resistant bowl and cool to about 212°F (100°C).

  3. Dip cold apples in caramel, letting excess drip off before transferring to a parchment-lined cutting board. Let stand at room temperature until fully set, about 10 minutes, and serve.

    A green apple being lifted by a popsicle from a bowl of soft caramel.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

8 to 12 wooden popsicle sticks, 3-quart saucier, heat-resistant spatula, digital thermometer with clip-on attachment

Notes

If you have fond memories of apples dipped in the sort of super-thick and chewy caramel that can really work your jaw, reduce the cream to 6 ounces (3/4 cup; 170g). Otherwise, proceed exactly as directed.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
206 Calories
8g Fat
36g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 206
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 10%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 24mg 8%
Sodium 137mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 36g 13%
Dietary Fiber 2g 9%
Total Sugars 32g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 5mg 23%
Calcium 21mg 2%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 127mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)