Making Caramel Apples

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.

31 thoughts on “Making Caramel Apples”

  1. Hey, Joe!
    Ok. I would really like to make these for my son’s class because they are delicious and easy and stupidly expensive at the bake shop. But I have never (literally) succeeded with the ‘cook the sugar until amber’ method. My perception of ‘amber’ must be different from every recipe writer’s. Either the caramel is too light (and thus unpleasantly sticky and chewy) or too dark (and bitter). Any temperature suggestions for ‘amber’? (I also fail spectacularly with pie crusts and any kind of yeasted dough. But that’s a whine for another day.)
    Thanks for any help.

    1. Hey Charm!

      Really my best suggestion to get a darker caramel is to just keep swirling over high heat and wait for the color and whisps of smoke. The cooking goes so fast after the light amber stage that by the time you stick in a thermometer and get a reading, the caramel will probably have burned. I wish I could offer more…I made the tutorial as simple as I could think to make it. Look at the picture and aim for something in that general area. Once you do it right the first time you’ll never fear caramel making again!

      Best of luck and let me know how it goes!

      – Joe

  2. I went directly to the recipe I use and yep, “cook to the firm-ball stage”. I’ve wondered about there being two ways to get to carmel: cook sugar or cook white & brown sugar with milk and butter. I understand now that the former is not really carmel and look forward to using your recipe next time.
    We like to save the extra carmel to reheat and serve with fruit slices when we have company.

    1. Oh yes, Mrs. Pastry get furious with me if she comes home to find leftover caramel in the trash. Having worked in bakeries in the past I just throw out leftovers a lot of the time. It’s a habit…small amounts usually aren’t worth saving in those contexts and is generally more trouble than it’s worth. Also I’m a neat freak. I just don’t want to bother with more containers. 😉

      But let me know what you think when you try it. Cheers!

      – Joe

      1. I always find a recipe to fit the need so if I have leftover grape jam from canning I find a recipe using grape jam (or at least jam). Same with caramel and chocolate sauce. Too much..find a recipe that has one or both like a turtle cheesecake and voila…no leftovers. Had that happen when I made macaroons for someone for Halloween. Too many egg yolks left. I found two recipes that used eggs and extra yolks, doubled both to use 4 yolks. No leftovers. LOL

  3. I once saw a recipe for inside out caramel apples. The idea was to use a small ice cream scoop to remove a generous amount around the core and then pour the caramel into the void. You cut these into wedges which were not an enormous amount to eat and much simpler to deal with.

    It was such a great idea. Alas! My caramel came out much too runny for the application and all I got was a mess. But it’s such a good idea I really have to try it again.

    1. Very clever indeed! Sounds like fun. Try cutting the cream and butter in this recipe down by perhaps a third and see what happens!

      – Joe

      1. I tried this once as well, and it seems that the interior of the apple is so much wetter than the outside that the caramel doesn’t stick (even a thicker caramel). I basically had caramel candies sitting on top of apple wedges, but they were very easily dislodged. Any thoughts on how to dry them out? I feel like salting and rinsing might leave too much residual flavor…but it seems to work for eggplant parm?

        1. Interesting. I didn’t get so far that I could identify this part of the challenge.

          Maybe the apple halves would need several hours to dry out. They’d brown a bit of course but you could slice a thin part of the exterior away once you’d gotten the caramel to firm up. If you did it just before serving you’d get nice crisp wedges.

          Thanks for adding your experience to the equation.

        2. Hey Melanie!

          That’s an interesting conundrum. I probably wouldn’t want to dry the apple since the juiciness is so key to the experience. However a less juicy apple might help. Granny Smiths seem a little more dry to me, and galas a bit more wet on the inside. But of course that won’t completely eliminate the problem. A light dusting of cornstarch on the interior perhaps?

          – Joe

  4. I always had a problem keeping the apples firmly on the stick so I started putting 2 sticks in, one on either side of the stem. It works well in case anyone has the same problem.

    My upbringing does not allow me to throw anything away if it is usable (a blessing and a curse). I save left over caramel in the fridge and then microwave it, pour it over vanilla ice cream and, if I am really lucky add pecans and chocolate sauce. Best thing ever!

  5. Since I live in New England, I was able to find tiny heirloom apples, a russety green, and made caramel apples with those–at about four bites each, it makes for the ideal caramel-to-apple ratio!

  6. Thanks for the recipe, I will give it a try tomorrow. I have made “caramel fudge” in the past and it never sticks to the apples properly. Is this type of caramel more likely to adhere to the apple skin without too much pooling? Also, I’m in the UK and corn syrup is really hard to come by. I’ve substituted golden syrup for it in other caramel recipes and it’s worked out okay, do you see any reason why that won’t work here as well? I’ve also used liquid glucose, but only if I need just a small amount because it only comes in teeny tiny tubes. Thanks again!

    1. Either one of those will work, Phoebe.

      I had no problem with sticking, so long as I let the caramel firm a bit before I put them down. Refrigeration is also a big help to get the caramel to set.

      – Joe

      1. So, my caramel turned rock hard after cooling! I used golden syrup and double cream (which I’ve always suspected is thicker than American heavy cream), and the caramel turned out beautifully and stuck to the apples perfectly. But it was pretty much hard candy after a few minutes. We ended up hacking the apples to bits with our sturdiest knife and sucking on the pieces to soften the caramel. Still delish, but do you have any suggestions for making the caramel softer? More cream, lighter cream, less cooking (I did let it get dark, but no wisps of smoke)?

        1. I would not have suspected that, Phoebe! Fascinating. It seems that the golden syrup wasn’t able to prevent some extremely large crystals from forming. Glucose syrup will probably help that next time. I’ll remember that for the future. Glad they still tasted good anyway!

          Sorry to steer you astray!

          – Joe

        2. In Sweden here, sorry it’s a bit of a late response- You could see if you can try and track down these products? I’ve used the “white baking syrup” in candy recipes in Sweden, but they also have bottles of glucose syrup which should be enough (and better than lots of little tubes)
          I assume they have to sell it somewhere in the UK as they have a UK website in english.
          (I cannot compare however how close the white baking syrup comes to white corn syrup in the states. Not having both to compare makes that hard, even though I have used it)

    1. Hi Sarah!

      It depends on their size of course. This batch covered about 20 small apples.

      – Joe

  7. Have you ever had any problem with the caramel sticking? I have heard you should blanche or wash your apples first to get the wax off. I’ve even read one website that a light sandying wouldn’t hurt?


    1. I have not noticed any particular problem, Cathy, though the caramel will slip down some over a period of a day or two (half an inch or so). If you’re planning on holding the apples for that long or longer you might want to experiment with a hot water bath and a rough sponge…see if that helps!


      – Joe

  8. I put the caramel apples in the refrigerator to cool but noticed later when I dip in chocolate the caramel appears to melt off or with white chocolate or candy melts it folds. Any suggestions? Thanks

    1. Hey Rita!

      Yes, double dipping them in something warm like melted chocolate will soften the caramel for sure. What about a lighter chocolate drizzle?

      – Joe

  9. I was so nervous, but it turned out really well! So tasty! Thanks for posting these instructions! Much easier than peeling wrapped caramels. 🙂

    I made a tripple batch and am keeping it warm in a crock pot so my daughter’s Brownie troop can make caramel apples this evening.

    1. Way to go, Lynne! Thanks for checking back and letting me know. Yeah, I really don’t like peeling pre-made caramels forever either. And this way you really get some distinct flavor. I need to make some this season…honeycrisps are in and I think they’d be great!


      – Joe

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