Gourmet Homemade Caramel Apples are easy and fun to make! The sweet, buttery caramel is perfect with crisp, tart Granny Smith apples, and you can decorate them with as many crunchy, chewy, nutty or crispy toppings as you want!

Love all things caramel? Be sure not to miss our Easy Caramel Pecan Brownies and Homemade Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns!

An image of homemade gourmet caramel apples covered in fun toppings.
Table of Contents
  1. What are the best apples for caramel apples?
  2. What You'll Need
  3. How to Make Caramel Apples
  4. Recipe FAQ's
  5. Tips for Success
  6. Gourmet Caramel Apples make great gifts!
  7. How to Host a DIY Caramel Apple Bar
  8. How to Store
  9. Decorating Caramel Apples
  10. Some of Our Favorite Caramel Apple Combos
  11. How to Cut a Caramel Apple
  12. More Caramel Recipes
  13. Homemade Caramel Apples Recipe

You know those huge, fabulous gourmet caramel apples at Disneyland? Those stunning orbs of caramel & chocolate with nuts & candy never fail to lure me in when I'm walking past the candy shop on Main Street.

The scent of that fresh caramel is possibly the most incredible aroma on earth. They are one of my favorite Disney treats along with the Jolly Holiday Raspberry Rose Macarons.

When Paul and I were dating back in college, one of our favorite things to do was go to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and buy a caramel apple to share. It was a splurge for us because we were broke undergrads, but totally worth it!

But even a delicious gourmet caramel apple is nothing compared to a fresh, made-from-scratch homemade caramel apple. Plus, you can make an entire batch of this easy caramel apples recipe for the price of just one apple from a candy shop!

What are the best apples for caramel apples?

Since the caramel itself is so sweet, we think the best apple for caramel apples are tart, firm Granny Smith apples. Not only do tart apples have great flavor and texture, but the color makes for the prettiest presentation with the vibrant green peeking through robes of thick caramel. Envy and Honeycrisp apples are good second choices.

Look for apples that are small to medium size rather than the biggest apples you can find. By the time the apples are covered in caramel and other toppings, they will be massive! Plus, smaller apples gives a better apple to caramel ratio.

What You'll Need

Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.

  • Salted butter
  • Brown sugar
  • Light corn syrup - This helps prevent sugar crystals from forming in the cooked caramel.
  • Sweetened condensed milk - You can make caramel with heavy cream, but we find we get the best results with sweetened condensed milk.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Apples - Granny Smiths are our favorite apples for this recipe.
  • Your favorite toppings
An image of granny smith apples with sticks in them.

How to Make Caramel Apples

Before you start making your caramel, go ahead and get your apples set up by washing them well.

Stick sturdy candy sticks (not the thin ones but the really substantial, thick ones), tongue depressors, popsicle or wooden craft sticks, or even sturdy, cleaned twigs for a really rustic look, into each apple, right down through the core.

Then set your apples on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and set them in the freezer to chill while you make the caramel.

Using cold apples is super helpful because it will allow the hot caramel to set faster and adhere to the apple when you go to dip them.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk, then continue to cook and stir until combined.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the caramel reaches 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer (affiliate link). This is also known as "soft ball" stage.

Remove the caramel from the heat and immediately stir in the vanilla extract.

Then dip each cold apple into the hot caramel, rotating quickly to coat all sides and letting the excess caramel drip off before transferring the dipped apples to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

The best technique for dipping is to plunge the apple in and out quickly, rolling it around if necessary but not letting it linger in the hot caramel.

As the apple warms up from the heat of the caramel, it makes it so that the caramel has a harder time setting up and it tends to slump down the sides of the apple.

A quick in-and-out approach works best because the apple stays cold, letting the caramel have a better grip to set up more quickly.

An image of granny smith apples covered in homemade caramel.

Recipe FAQ's

Do I have to refrigerate the apples before dipping?

It's not totally necessary to chill the apples in the freezer or fridge before dipping them in the homemade caramel, but using cold apples does help the hot caramel stick and set faster.

How do you get wax off apples?

Waxy apples can make the caramel slide off. To remove the wax, place the apples in very hot water for a few seconds to remove the wax, then rinse in cool tap water. If the wax is particularly stubborn, you can also scrubbing the apples with a little apple cider vinegar using a vegetable brush or paper towel, then rinsing well.

What can I do if my caramel separates?

The biggest issue to watch for (and this really is a big problem if it happens) is if the butter in the caramel separates, which usually happens because you have finished the caramel but let it sit too long without stirring or transfer it to a crockpot and leave it on low for a long time. None of the caramel will stick to the apples if there is a thin layer of separated butter on the top of the caramel. If that starts to happen, it's going to take some elbow grease and a really strong wooden spoon to bring the caramel back together, but it can be done. Just turn the heat off and let the caramel cool down for a while, then stir, stir, stir, until it comes back together.

Tips for Success

  • Don't use wax paper or aluminum foil. It has a tendency to melt from the heat of the caramel and stick to the bottom of the apple. Use parchment paper instead.
  • Invest in an inexpensive candy thermometer. Yes, there are tests you can do by dropping small amounts of your cooked caramel in a bowl of water to determine what stage it is at, but it is so, so much easier and far more reliable to just use a thermometer.
  • Stick close by your caramel while it is cooking. It is going to take about 12-15 minutes for the caramel to come up to temperature and you will want to stir it almost constantly to make sure it isn't burning on the bottom and that the ingredients are combining well to create the caramel.

Gourmet Caramel Apples make great gifts!

This easy caramel apples recipe is always popular around Halloween, but we also love making them in December as gifts for teachers, friends and neighbors. I think it is one of the sweetest ways to share the spirit of the season. Wrap them up in cellophane with a red ribbon tied on top and they would make a perfect DIY edible gift for the holidays!

The fresh, crisp apple with chewy, sweet caramel combo is a timeless one and you can really have these anytime of the year.

An image of homemade caramel apples lined up on a baking sheet.

How to Host a DIY Caramel Apple Bar

The actual process of dipping and decorating the apples is a really fun activity, especially for kids. We have hosted an annual Halloween party for the last 10 years and always have a DIY caramel apple bar that is the hit of the party!

Make the caramel in advance

You can cook the caramel up to 1 week in advance and keep it in the fridge. I have done this and then reheated it on the stove before transferring to the slow cooker and keeping it warm for up to 2-3 hours on the "low" setting.

Prep the apples

Wash all of the apples in advance so that I don't have to worry about that on the day of the party. Then dry the apples really well and keep them in the fridge so they will be nice and cold.

Help younger children

The younger kids always need more help dipping the apples in the caramel since it's hot and the apples can be heavy for them, but as they get older they can do more of it themselves.

I took a triple batch of caramel to my daughter's Kindergarten class and kept it warm in the slow cooker. We dipped and decorated apples for their Halloween party, which was so much fun! Everybody got to take their apple home and eat it there.

This is my cute little witch at her Kindergarten class party with her Jack-O-Lantern caramel apple.

An image of a girl dressed as a witch making caramel apples.

How to Store

Refrigerate your caramel apples to keep them fresh. They will stay fresh weeks in the fridge (at least in theory - ours never make it that long because we eat them first!)

Decorating Caramel Apples

After dipping your apples into the caramel, you can top them with as many toppings as your heart desires! You can go as simple or crazy as you like.

I tend to favor simpler caramel apple toppings like just pecans or toasted coconut.

But Paul loves an apple pie version of a homemade caramel apple (I've included additional instructions in the recipe below on how to make those), and kids always seem to go for the Oreos, pretzels or M&Ms (or whatever spare Halloween candy you may still have around).

And melting some dark or milk chocolate to drizzle over the apples makes for a really fancy (but super easy) presentation.

Here are some of our favorite caramel apple toppings:

  • chopped nuts (pecans, peanuts, or sliced almonds are always popular)
  • mini M&M's (the regular size ones are too big and will just pull the caramel off the apple)
  • candy corn
  • toasted coconut
  • crushed cookies like Oreos, graham crackers, and Biscoff
  • pretzels
  • melted white, milk, or dark chocolate
  • cinnamon sugar mixture
  • crushed butterfingers, snickers, or other candy bars
An image of different types of homemade caramel apples.

Some of Our Favorite Caramel Apple Combos

Of course you can eat your caramel apple however you like. But these are some of our favorite combinations that we have seen or come up with over the years!

An image of 8 caramel apples with different toppings.

Cinnamon Sugar (Apple Pie) Caramel Apple

This is Paul's favorite caramel apple, by far. We used to get one on date nights at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory during law school and split it for a treat.

You roll a freshly dipped caramel apple in melted white chocolate, then in a mix of cinnamon and sugar. It's sweet and tart and oh-so-good!

An image of an apple pie caramel apple.

Chocolate Pretzel Caramel Apple

Is there anything better than the salty-sweet crunch of pretzels, caramel, and chocolate together? The answer is yes - when a juicy tart, fresh apple is added to the mix!

Press pretzel twists into the freshly dipped caramel apple, then drizzle melted dark or milk chocolate over the top for a fantastic and different treat!

M&M Caramel Apple

This one is the trickiest of all since the weight of the M&M's will pull on the caramel. While this caramel apple may never be picture perfect, I have found that the best approach is to dip the apple and let it cool for a minute or two to give the caramel a chance to start setting up, then roll it in MINI M&M's rather than the full-size ones.

Oreo Caramel Apple

Dip a caramel apple in melted white chocolate melts, then roll it in crushed Oreo crumbs. It's every Oreo-lover's dream!

Chocolate Pecan Turtle Caramel Apple

I'm a sucker for turtle candies, which are just whole pecans covered in caramel and chocolate. So it just makes sense to roll a caramel apple in chopped toasted pecans and drizzle it with melted chocolate! I've used white, milk, and dark chocolate, and all are delicious!

How to Cut a Caramel Apple

We prefer to cut our homemade gourmet caramel apples for easier sharing and eating. Not that we have any difficulty eating one caramel apple in one sitting, mind you. But more because we want to try all the different flavor creations we come up with!

Use a large, sharp knife to slice the apple on each side of the stick, taking care to avoid the core. Then rotate the apple a quarter turn and slice on either side of the stick again to section the apple into 8 pieces.

It's so much easier to eat caramel apple slices rather than attempting to bite into them whole!

More Caramel Recipes

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Homemade Caramel Apples

4.96 from 67 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 10 apples
Gourmet Homemade Caramel Apples are so easy and fun to make!  When the sweet, buttery caramel gets paired with crisp, tart apples, and then topped with as many crunchy, chewy, nutty or crispy toppings as you want, you will have confection perfection!

Ingredients
  

  • 10-15 Granny Smith apples

Caramel for dipping

  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional Toppings

  • White candy melts
  • Cinnamon-sugar mixture
  • Crushed pretzels
  • Chopped pecans
  • Chopped peanuts
  • Mini M&M's
  • Crushed Oreos
  • Toasted coconut
  • Melted dark or milk chocolate
  • Chopped mini Reese's peanut butter cups
  • Chopped Butterfingers
  • Graham cracker crumbs
  • Marshmallows

Instructions
 

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Prepare the apples by washing the well to get any waxy residue off. Dry completely and stick a tongue depressor right into the apple from the top, jamming it in deep enough to hold firmly. Place the skewered apples on the prepared baking sheet and stick them in the freezer for 20 minutes while preparing your caramel.
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking and stirring over medium-high heat until the temperature of the caramel reaches 235-240 on a candy thermometer (about 12-15 minutes but you definitely want to use a candy thermometer for this step!). You will want to stir almost constantly to avoid burning the caramel on the bottom of the pan.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the vanilla. Don't worry about the caramel bubbling a bit when the vanilla gets stirred in. Just keep stirring and it will all come together.
  • Pull the (now-chilled) apples out of the freezer and dip them into the caramel, one at a time, letting excess caramel drip off the apple. Give the apple a quick flip upside down and hold it like that for 20 seconds or so to give the hot caramel a chance to set up on the cold apple before turning it right side up and setting the dipped apple down on the parchment paper. Repeat with remaining apples, then transfer to the fridge for 15 minutes to set completely.
  • If you want to go beyond a traditional caramel apple, you can roll your caramel dipped apple into any of the toppings listed above (or whatever else you can think of that sounds good!) just after dipping the apple but before the caramel completely sets up.
  • Once your apples have set completely, they can be loosely wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon for a sweet gift!

Apple Pie Caramel Apples

  • In a small bowl, mix together 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Melt white candy melts or 2 cups white chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon shortening in the microwave in short 30 second bursts, stirring well between each burst, until melted. After dipping an apple in the caramel, let it set up for a few minutes in the fridge. Then dip the caramel apple into the melted white chocolate, scraping off any excess white chocolate so it is not too thick (or else it will start to slide off the caramel, especially once you add additional toppings). Immediately (before the white chocolate starts to set) roll the chocolate-covered apple in the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat. Return the dipped apple to the pan and allow it to set completely.

S'mores Caramel Apple

  • Melt 2 cups milk chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon shortening in the microwave in short 30 second bursts, stirring well between each burst, until melted. After dipping an apple in the caramel, let it set up for a few minutes in the fridge. Then dip the caramel apple into the melted chocolate, scraping off any excess chocolate. Immediately roll the chocolate-covered apple in graham cracker crumbs to coat. Press marshmallows into the caramel, then drizzle with additional melted chocolate. Return the dipped apple to the pan and allow it to set completely.

Video

Notes

  • Storage: Refrigerate your caramel apples to keep them fresh. They will stay fresh weeks in the fridge (at least in theory - ours never make it that long because we eat them first!).
  • These gourmet caramel apples are a really fun activity for a party and you can easily transfer the cooked caramel from your saucepan into a crockpot and keep it warm on the "low" setting for 2-3 hours.  Just be sure to stir it well if it has been sitting for a bit before dipping the apples.
Recipe from Jamie Cooks It Up.

Nutrition

Calories: 650kcal | Carbohydrates: 116g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 62mg | Sodium: 248mg | Potassium: 407mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 109g | Vitamin A: 772IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 170mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

This post was originally published in November, 2016. The photos and content were updated in September, 2022.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

    1. Thanks, Kathy! I thought she was pretty cute too! 🙂 Although later that day she got brave and went with green paint on her face and neck so she could be the Wicked Witch of the West.

  1. These look like so much fun! Caramel apples make the best treats. Love your photo of the cute little witch. 🙂

  2. It is such a fun project and the result is far better than the store bought kind! These caramel apples look great and super delicious. And the witch in the picture is adorable 😉 .

  3. Love the whole idea... Plus it's a nice way the kids to eat more fresh fruits!!!

      1. I'm surprised no one else has pointed out that wax paper is not the right sort of paper to use for this sort of thing: I used it for this recipe and ruined all of my apples, as the wax finish melts onto the caramel apples. Just going to stick with apple cider and snacks for my party tonight I guess.
        Once I googled the issue when I realized the mistake, I got a million results of people saying to absolutely never use wax paper for melted candy for the exact reason I said.
        So did you mean to say parchment paper? Because as I just discovered, there is a big difference.

        1. Oh no!! I'm so, so sorry! Yes, I meant parchment paper, not waxed paper! I feel terrible! I already updated that mistake. I'm surprised no one mentioned it before now!

          1. Actually parchment is not good for this either... silicone or just brush the baking sheet with butter.

      1. They will keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. Just make sure they have a few hours at room temperature for the caramel to soften before enjoying.

  4. What a great idea for a Halloween Party! Thanks for sharing on the Celebrate 365 Blog Party!

  5. How far ahead can these be made up and what is the best way to store them until you need them? Would like to make them for a birthday party

  6. I’m so going to try this recipes tomorrow I have a whole fresh picked apples and this will be a great way to use them plus the kids will love them...the recipe Is so we’ll explained...Thank you! 

    1. Absolutely! I pour mine into an airtight container and store it in the fridge. It can be reheated in the microwave and poured over brownies or added to an apple pie or used lots of other ways!

        1. I think that will depend on how much caramel you have leftover. If it's just a partial batch it might be hard to cover the apples easily in it and have them turn out smooth. But yes, it should reheat and be fine for making caramel apples! Great question!

  7. These turned out amazing and delicious! I had to triple the recipe because I was leading a kids class at my job and this was the activity I chose to do- so it took a very long time for the caramel to get to temp but it was sooo worth it!

      1. Yes, you can make the caramel in advance and then refrigerate it up for to 2 weeks and reheat to use for dipping later.

  8. Made these last night and they turned out awesome! At first it had a weird flavor, but it turned out that was coming from the sprinkles the kids had used (on almost all of them! 😖). Anyway, I was able to recreate my absolute favorite version that I would usually purchase at RMCF. Quick question, what do you suggest for storing them? I usually store a caramel apple in the fridge, but these seem to turn rock hard and then it's impossible to slice them without the caramel pulling off. Should they not be stored in the fridge? Did I do something wrong when making the caramel or do you just need to let them sit out for a few minutes before slicing?

    1. Hi Erica! I'm so glad you enjoyed these and figured out the weird flavor was from the sprinkles your kids used, lol! If you are going to eat them within a few hours, you can just store them on the counter covered loosely in foil. But otherwise, yes I recommend storing them in the fridge. The caramel definitely gets hard in there, but if you leave them at room temperature for a couple of hours (a few minutes won't do a whole lot for cold caramel) it should soften up and be ready to slice and eat!

  9. Have you ever tried the caramel with agave nectar instead of corn syrup? Social distancing has me trying to be creative with what I have on hand. These look like such a fun activity to do with my kids while we’re home.

    1. I haven't tried making the caramel with agave nectar but I would be interested in hearing how it goes! I hear you can use honey as well!

  10. How do I get my caramel to a darker color like yours? Also is it best to put them in the fridge after you dip them?

    1. If you want darker caramel, use you always use dark brown sugar or dark corn syrup instead of light corn syrup!

  11. My kids can't get enough of the caramel! This is so good! I've never seen caramel apples disappear so fast. The kids are literally fighting over them. I am not a fan of caramel apples, but I have been taking small pieces when they have one. Thank you for sharing your delicious recipe.

      1. Mine turned out with the Carmel WAY WAY too hard and thick 🙁 .... how do you get the coating to be thin? We couldn’t even bite into the apples....

        1. Oh no! I'm sorry that happened! Sounds like the caramel was cooked to too high of a temperature. You might need a new thermometer.

  12. What size can of condensed milk? We tried tonight but it was too runny. We didn’t have a candy thermometer (just ordered) but there were multiple sizes of condensed milk at store so could have also used the wrong size. It  was good for dipping slices of apples, but want to try again.

    1. It's a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk. Bummer that it was too runny, but I'm sure you will have better results with a candy thermometer to help!

  13. I love this recipe! Made it for the first time yesterday. I had 2 green apples and wanted to do something with them. I made the caramel and cooked the caramel under 240. Around 236. When it was ready i stirred it until it got thickened while cooling. Dipped the apples and did what you suggested and turned the apple over. I had no pooling at the bottom. The caramel stayed on the apple. I dipped it into toffee bits then melted white coating and drizzled it over the apples. Did the same with the semi sweet chocolate. So pretty and lots of caramel left over for icecream. Thank you for the wonderful recipe and clear instructions.

  14. Okay question on the caramel! I took it off heat at 235 and it worked great for the first 5 apples. Then it seemed to get too hard so I tried to reheat it and after just a little bit of time I started to separate and the butter was coating the apples and the caramel wouldn’t stick. Did I ruin it re heating it? 

    1. That's weird that it would get hard after just five apples and then not come back together with the butter separating. Did you try stirring the caramel back together really vigorously? That's pretty much the only way to get the caramel to work again if the butter starts separating is to use elbow grease to combine them. Otherwise, I would say to just drain the separated butter off and use the caramel you have for dipping apple slices or drizzling over ice cream and try again with a new batch. Sometimes it's just like that with candy making until you figure out how it works best on your stove and with your equipment!

  15. I haven’t tried them YET, but plan to this weekend.  I’ve made caramel apples before and definitely agree about NOT using the “slick” sticks as the apples just fall off.  Your apples are very pretty, but why are using the “slick” white sticks after not recommending them?!? 

    1. I know! I really need to fix that. I just liked the look of the pretty white sticks for the photos, but in regular practice I use the wooden popsicle sticks which are much more practical.

  16. I plan on using this for a church youth group activity. When you transfer the caramel to the crockpot, do you continue to use the candy thermometer to make sure the temp is correct or does the low setting keep it warm enough?

    1. No, once I transfer it I just leave it on the low setting. Just make sure to stir it occasionally so it doesn't separate again.

  17. 5 stars
    Caramel apples are one of my favorite treats. Yours came out picture perfect! Love how customizable you can make them plus they are super tasty! Love, love, love!

  18. 5 stars
    These caramel apples are perfect for fall. I can't wait to get into the kitchen and have my kids make these along side me.

  19. Hello! I am so excited to try this caramel. Quick question, have you ever made the caramel in advance? Refrigerated it and then warmed it on low in the crock pot?

    1. Yes! I mentioned this in the post, but you can cook the caramel up to about 1 week in advance and keep it in the fridge. Reheat it gently on the stove or in the crock pot, being sure to stir occasionally.

  20. 5 stars
    I followed this recipe exactly with the exception of chilling the apples because they had been in my trunk overnight in 40 degree weather.
    This recipe is easy and so delicious! I made one dozen apples and had plenty of caramel left over. I poured the excess in a buttered pie dish and sprinkled crushed salted peanuts on top. It is so very good I cannot stop sampeling it!
    Try this recipe, you will not regret it! Oh and my grandson loved it!

  21. 5 stars
    Awesome recipe. We made these for my 6 year old’s birthday party and it was a hit. I made the caramel a couple days in advance, reheated the day of the party and kept it warm in a slow cooker. It was so much fun and the kids (and adults!!) loved them. Just perfect! Thank you!

  22. 5 stars
    These turned out amazing! My first time making caramel and it was a success. I made all the apples you posted. I feel like a gourmet caramel apple maker now.

    1. Wow! You are a gourmet apple maker! Aren't they so fun?! They feel so fancy but really are not that hard to make. I'm so glad you liked them!