Growing up, every autumn our school would send around order forms for caramel apples. We called them taffy apples. I LOVED them and lived for them. My favorites were the ones with peanuts covering the apple. Mmmm…delicious. I never really made my own when I grew up, but never really thought about it either.
That is, until I moved to Phoenix where the leaves don’t really change color in September, the wind doesn’t really turn cold, and it doesn’t ‘feel’ like autumn. My first September and October there I realized that even though it didn’t feel like autumn outside, I felt like it inside. I could practically smell the crispness in the air and suddenly, I felt like playing Christmas music (like I am right now as I type this post), wear socks and long sleeves, and do a LOT of baking. And then, I realized I was craving caramel apples.
I was amazed when I could find apples for just $.49 per pound, so I searched around and found a recipe from Betty Crocker I liked. But it was put together in such a non-helpful way that I am going to expound on it for you.
I have never had better caramel ever, especially on an apple. The recipe sounds complicated but it really isn’t. The added instructions are for your benefit. But it could be simply stated that you mix everything together in a pan, cook over medium low heat until it reaches a soft ball stage. Coat the apples and go. But that makes little sense to everyone.
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
6-12 firm apples (try to pick the greenest ones: Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Honey Crisp, Granny Smith…I do not like yellow or red delicious)
Toppings (chopped nuts, mini M&Ms, toffee bits, sprinkles)
Have apples washed and “sticked”, ready to go. Also have a piece of wax paper laid out and spray with PAM.
Mix together first 4 ingredients (not the vanilla!) in a sauce pan. Cook and stir over low heat (I do mine on just-below-medium until it starts to bubble and then I turn it down to medium low until it’s done). Be sure to stir constantly once the mixture has heated otherwise you will start to burn it. Sometimes pieces will turn into caramel before others but they will blend in in the end. You’ll watch it pass thru different stages: thick and grainy, thin and smooth (which will be for a while), then it’ll start to turn a little tanner in color, then it’ll turn more and more a caramel color which will get stickier as it continues to cook. If you take it off too early, it will crystalize in a couple days. If you take it off too late, it will just be thicker and set quickly, making it hard to dip the apples and get the toppings to stick. The best idea is to get a candy thermometer and cook it until it reaches 230 degrees.
Remove from the heat and add vanilla. Stir well. It will bubble and boil as you mix in the vanilla. Quickly dip apples, using a knife to scrape off excess from bottom. Put on waxed paper. If you are going to add toppings (I love peanuts, Braden loves toffee bits, sprinkles are fun too) roll the apples in the toppings. Put the toppings on a plate and roll.
The apples will keep on the counter or in the fridge. If you put them in the fridge, the apple will be crisper and colder (obviously) but the caramel will need a minute to sit at room temperature before cutting or eating. It’s fun to eat straight off the apple, but it’s really hard to do that, especially for kids. We think it tastes even better (because you get more caramel per piece of apple) if you take the stick out and slice it like a regular apple. Plus, it goes a lot further.
One batch makes between 6-12, depending on how quickly you dip the apples. It is REALLY helpful to have a co-chef to tip the pan while you dip the apples. When I double the recipe, I can often get more than 2 dozen out of it. If you have extra helpers, have someone else put on the toppings while you continue to dip.
Leftover caramel is great for dipping pretzels in and then coating with chocolate and toppings. Or just eating plain with a spoon for a few days. It’s delicious.