When you’ve been with someone as long as my husband and I have, you end up with a lot of running jokes. One of ours is how I always ogle the caramel apples in specialty shops and then never buy them. You know the type: Big, dripping with caramel, chocolate and obscene amounts of candy or cookies. I’m tempted, but the size, decadence and, frankly, the cost keep me from making the purchase. At the other end of the spectrum are the caramel apples you might spy in your grocery store. But how long have they been sitting there? What’s in the caramel?
Flush with fruit from the market and missing a lot of fall rituals, I decided it was time to give homemade caramel apples a try. This particular recipe, culled from the Food Network, gives you an almost impossibly glossy caramel that you can coat with your favorite topping. (It’s also great plain.) I really liked finely chopped roasted peanuts, and desiccated coconut was eye-catching. An elegant, restrained chocolate drizzle? Sure, why not.
Using medium, or even small, apples means you won’t go completely overboard on the caramel and ensures an ideal caramel-to-apple ratio. Among the many problems with those store-bought monstrosities is that once you eat around the perimeter, you’re often left eating a lot of a so-so apple. If you can, purchase unwaxed apples, as wax can prevent the caramel from adhering. That’s one reason I prefer farmers market apples, in addition to the fact that it might be easier to find smaller apples there. Plus, you can mix and match more varieties to see which go best with the caramel.
The caramel here is cooked to a fairly high temperature, which gives it a more complex flavor with a gentle bitter undertone to keep it from edging into cloying. It also sets up with a bit of a crackle, though it’s still plenty chewy. If you like a softer caramel, aim for a slightly lower temperature, but keep in mind it might not set the same.
Recipe notes: An instant-read thermometer, ideally one that can be clipped to the side of the pan, is necessary for this recipe. You’ll have extra caramel, which you need to have plenty of space to dip. Store in the refrigerator and reheat to pour over ice cream or any other dessert.
You’ll need six 5- to 6-inch candy sticks, wooden dowels or paper lollipop sticks. Popsicle sticks or, in a pinch, chopsticks will work, too.
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt
6 medium very crisp apples (such as Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Pink Lady or Granny Smith), well washed and dried
Finely chopped peanuts, desiccated coconut, crushed candy or other topping of choice (optional)
In a tall-sided, small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Stir a few times before the sugar begins to boil to combine the ingredients. Attach a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan (or monitor often with a handheld instant-read thermometer) and bring the syrup to a boil. Cook until the syrup begins to turn a deep amber color, then swirl the syrup to even out the color. Continue to cook until the syrup is a deep amber and the thermometer reads between 375 and 380 degrees, then remove from the heat.
Be patient, as this can take as long as 20 minutes – just don’t look away because the caramel can burn quickly. Carefully and gradually pour in the cream and gently whisk to combine. It will bubble vigorously, so you might want to stand back a little (you can use an oven mitt, too, to protect your hand from the steam). Stir in the butter, vanilla and salt until smooth. Keep off the heat, but keep the thermometer attached to the pan.
Pierce the apples through the stem ends about halfway through with the candy sticks. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
When the temperature of the caramel dips to between 180 and 190 degrees, dip an apple using the stick as a handle and coat completely. Try to move the apple around as little as possible in the caramel to prevent air pockets or bubbles from forming. Instead, tip the caramel around the apple.
Let the excess caramel drip off the bottom and use a silicone spatula to help remove any large amount of caramel, as it will pool around the apple when you set it down to cool on the lined baking sheet. Dip the coated apples in your choice of topping, if desired. Repeat with the remaining apples; if the caramel gets too thick for dipping, gently reheat on the stove top over low heat back up to around 180 degrees, stirring constantly.
Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator to let the caramel set and cool completely before serving or wrapping the apples, about 30 minutes.
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