Learn how to make real homemade caramel apples with my success tips, video tutorial, and carefully explained recipe. This from-scratch caramel is buttery, sweet, and if cooked a little longer, is also excellent for soft caramel candies. This festive fall dessert is always fun to make, decorate, serve, and eat!

caramel apples

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Fall is in full swing and what better way to celebrate than with a traditional county fair inspired treat?! I originally published homemade caramel apples in my cookbook Sally’s Candy Addiction. There you’ll also find candy how-to’s and recipes including toffee, candy apples, caramels, fudge, truffles, chocolate bark, taffy, and marshmallows. I decided to slightly adapt my original recipe, adding a little more butter and corn syrup for a softer, silkier caramel coating.

Real Homemade Caramel Apples

We’re making homemade caramel apples with caramel cooked completely from scratch on the stove. No store-bought caramel candies or coatings because you can truly taste the difference between that and homemade. If cooked a little longer, this real caramel can be made into soft caramel candies like my sea salt vanilla caramels. Today I’m sharing the recipe, all my recommended tools, tips for success, and showing you a video tutorial so you can see just how easy it is to make real caramel for homemade caramel apples.

caramel apples on a baking sheet

Caramel Apples Video Tutorial

What Does the Caramel Taste Like?

My salted caramel is perfect for garnishing desserts, filling cakes, and as a dip for apple slices. However, it’s not suitable for coating apples because it’s too thin and won’t set properly- it’s missing corn syrup and the proper sugar to fat ratio.

The homemade caramel we’ll use for caramel apples is soft, chewy, buttery, a little taffy-like, and adheres to the apple easily. If applied lightly, the caramel won’t pool down at the bottom of the apple. Let’s break down the ingredients you need for homemade caramel coating and why each are imperative to the taste and texture. Cooking candy is actual chemistry, so there’s no room for substitutions.

Ingredients in Real Homemade Caramel

  1. Heavy Cream: Heavy cream/heavy whipping cream is the base for caramel. Any milk or half-and-half are too thin and won’t cook properly.
  2. Light Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is liquid sugar made from corn. Like all refined sugars, corn syrup doesn’t have an ideal nutritional profile. (Corn syrup used in home kitchens is not high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS goes through an additional refining process.) Corn syrup is required as it acts as the sticky, taffy-like base for caramel apples. Without it, the caramel will slide right off the apple (just as my salted caramel would). Though other liquid sweeteners can sometimes be substituted for corn syrup, candy making is not one of those instances. For organic non-GMO corn syrup, I like Wholesome brand.
  3. Brown Sugar: Brown sugar is softer and more flavorful than regular white sugar, so I love using it in caramel coating recipes.
  4. Butter: Butter adds unbeatable flavor and a desirably soft texture.
  5. Salt & Vanilla Extract: Both ingredients add incredible flavor. Add the vanilla extract after you remove the cooked caramel from heat.

Refer: How To Cook Brown Rice In The Microwave | Coral's Blog – Food Blog – Cooking Guide

homemade caramel apple with a bite taken out

How to Make Homemade Caramel Apples

Now that you have your ingredients, let’s make caramel apples. First, rinse and dry the apples. Apples have a waxy coating that will prevent the caramel from sticking, so it’s important to wash and dry it off. Make sure the apples are cold, which helps prevent the caramel from slipping off.

Pull out the apple’s stem and insert a caramel apple stick.

For the caramel, cook the first 5 ingredients on the stove until the candy reaches 235°F (113°C), known as the Soft Ball Stage in candy cooking terms. Reaching 235°F (113°C) should take about 15 – 20 minutes, though don’t use the time as your stopping point because it really depends on your stove- electric stoves may take a little longer than gas stoves. But you won’t mind waiting because this caramel smells INCREDIBLE as it cooks. Some readers have been cooking to 240°F (116°C) and saying the caramel sticks much better to the apples that way. Stick with anywhere between 235°F – 240°F.

Remove caramel from heat, then stir in the vanilla. Allow caramel to cool for a few minutes, then dip your apples. Let the excess caramel drip off, then place on a nonstick surface such as a silicone baking mat lined baking sheet.

Enjoy immediately or let the caramel set, about 45 minutes. Once set, you can wrap the caramel apples in cellophane for travel or gifting. Stand the apples in these adorable cellophane bags, then wrap the cellophane around the stick with a cute ribbon. Sweetest homemade gift around.

Slow Cooker to Keep Warm

Caramel must be prepared on the stove as instructed. However, after the caramel has cooked, you can keep it warm in a slow cooker on the low setting. Give it a gentle stir every 10 minutes to ensure the butter doesn’t separate. This is a great idea if you want to have a party where everyone can coat their own caramel apples!

Best Apples for Caramel Apples

You can use any variety of apple you enjoy such as Granny Smith, Fuji, or Honeycrisp. Granny Smith are a popular choice for caramel apples because they’re tart, which pairs perfectly with sweet buttery caramel. Whichever variety you use, look for:

  • small to medium size
  • as perfectly round as you can find
  • firm with no soft spots

Refer: How To Make Gordita Shells | Coral's Blog – Food Blog – Cooking Guide

2 images of apples with sticks and homemade caramel in a pot

dipping apple into a pot of caramel

Let’s talk tools. We need the same items used for pumpkin spice toffee. In fact, most candy recipes require the same exact tools. And did you know that most homemade candy is gluten free? You don’t need flour to make caramel, toffee, truffles, or fudge.

Tools You Need for Caramel Apples

  1. Candy Thermometer: This tool literally makes the entire caramel cooking process EASY FOR YOU because there’s no mistaking temperature. I highly recommend a digital candy thermometer that clips onto your pot like this one or this one. If calibrated, a candy thermometer is 1000x more accurate than using your eyes to detect candy’s doneness. See My Favorite Candy Making Tools for how/why to calibrate.
  2. Heavy bottomed saucepan: I’ve ruined many batches of caramel because of a cheap pan. The ideal place for cooking candy is a deep and thick saucepan with straight sides. Thin pans, which often have hot spots, do not withstand the heat required for these recipes. These days I have a few pans I use for making toffee: here, here, and here. The Cooks Standard is a great option for beginners, while the All-Clad and copper pot are ideal for controlling the temperature of your candy.
  3. Wooden spoon: Wood has a high heat tolerance. It also doesn’t conduct heat, so it won’t suck heat out from the cooking candy which causes crystallization. I just bought this set and LOVE them. (Crystallization is the formation of lumpy, grainy sugar crystals in otherwise smooth cooking candy.)
  4. Pastry brush: A pastry brush helps rid the saucepan of sugar syrup that may have splashed up around the sides. This syrup could burn and crystallize, ruining your batch of caramel. Wet it with water and wipe the sides of the pan clean. It’s ok if some water drips down into the cooking candy.
  5. Wooden Sticks: Sticks make eating caramel apples convenient and fun, while also serving as a useful dipping tool. Some small lollipop and popsicle sticks are simply too short- I recommend sticks anywhere between 5.5 – 7 inches. I like these wooden sticks because they’re sturdy and also double as skewers for meat & veggies.

homemade caramel apples on a wood slice cake stand

Caramel Apple Garnishes

The caramel apples are obviously fantastic plain, but it’s fun to play dress up every now and then. Immediately after coating in caramel and before the caramel sets, roll the caramel dipped apples in finely chopped nuts, toffee pieces, mini M&Ms, sprinkles, or coconut. You can even drizzle with melted chocolate and top with sprinkles, as shown below.

Used these sprinkles!

caramel apples with sprinkles and chocolate drizzle on pink cake stand

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