Most caramel apples are made using melted caramel candy for the coating, or a home made version thereof. Personally I prefer caramel sauce as starting point. You get a lot more flavor nuances when you cook the sugar to the breaking point, or at least that’s how I see it. That’s where the fun is. Cooking the syrup to the caramel stage is also a lot easier to my mind, as you don’t have to measure temperature. You just swirl it over the heat until it’s nut brown…easy.
Allow me to demonstrate. Combine 3 cups (21 ounces) of granulated sugar, 1/3 cup (3.6 ounces) of corn syrup and a cup (8 ounces) of water in a large pot. Have 3/4 cup (6 ounces) of heavy cream and 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) of butter standing by.
Put the pot over high heat and bring it to the boil. It’ll take about 10-15 minutes for it to turn yellowy, at which point you’ll want to watch it closely since it’ll cook fast after that.
You want it a nice dark amber color, about like so. It’ll give off a bit of smoke…which is OK. If you want to push the smoky taste further, wait for a deep brown — almost black — spot to appear in the center. Don’t go further than that since the whole batch will take on a bitter burnt taste much beyond that.
At whatever point you want to stop the cooking take the pan off the heat, pour in the cold cream and add the butter. Be prepared for some hissing and bubbling, it shouldn’t spatter much but be careful nonetheless — this sort of bakery napalm can burn! Whisk it vigorously to incorporate the dairy and melt down the hard caramel that will have been created when the cream went in.
The bubbling will die down as you whisk and lovely caramelly aromas will fill the kitchen.
Ah yeah…that’s the stuff.
When the caramel settles down, add any flavorings you like. I add about a teaspoon of salt since I like a slightly salty caramel. Stir it in and taste it with a spoon — carefully — to see if you want to go further for a true salty caramel effect. Two teaspoons of salt wouldn’t be too much.
Other flavorings work well here too. A teaspoon of vanilla extract is recommended. If you want to add some bourbon whisky for an adults-only caramel apple, you may do so, however be aware that adding a lot of liquid will create a runny caramel. If you plan to add a tablespoon or two of spirits, subtract an equal amount of cream from the recipe.
While the caramel is still hot, dip in your apples-on-sticks (sticks can be ordered off the web or improvised with popsicle sticks or sharpened twigs or dowel rods). I like small Granny Smiths or other small, tart apples for caramel apple-making…talk about a range of flavors and textures! Give them a gentle spin in the goo.
Let them drip and firm for a bit…count slowly to fifteen while rotating them for an even coat.
Apply them to a waiting sheet pan that’s been lined with lightly buttered parchment paper.
If nuts or crushed cookies or candy bits are your thing, dip them in a bowl of that first.
These always go over big.
You can serve them right away if you like. Alternately you can hold them, though it’s best to keep them in the fridge to fully set the caramel and prevent running. They’re best the day they’re made, but will keep for several days in the fridge…expect a bit of droop if you keep them that long since caramel is still a liquid even when it appears to be a solid.