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!
You know those huge, fabulous gourmet caramel apples you can buy at a really good chocolatier or candy shop? The kinds of shops where they line their windows with stunning orbs of caramel & chocolate & nut & candy coated apples so that when you walk past you absolutely must stop and stare, trying to not to be too conspicuous but feeling yourself locked in their tractor beam of dessert perfection? And the scent of that fresh caramel is possibly the most incredible aroma on earth. But man alive, those caramel apples are pricey! The good news is that it is not hard to make your own homemade caramel apples for a fraction of the cost. And your house is going to small AMAZING while you are making them!
One of my favorite traditions at Christmas is taking around “neighbor gifts” to friends and neighbors. I think it is one of the sweetest ways to share the spirit of the season. In the past we have done rocky road fudge or English toffee, but a jar of homemade salted caramel sauce is another great option, as are these gourmet homemade caramel apples! Wrap them up in cellophane with a red ribbon tied on top and they would make a perfect DIY neighbor gift for the holidays!
When my husband 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. But honestly, even though those are completely delicious, they are nothing compared to a fresh, made from scratch homemade caramel apple. And seriously, you can make an entire batch of caramel apples for the price of one of the store-bought variety.
The actual process of dipping and decorating the apples is a really fun activity, especially for kids. I took a triple batch of caramel to my daughter’s Kindergarten class and we dipped and decorated apples for their Halloween party, which was so much fun! This is my cute little witch at her Kindergarten class party with her Jack-O-Lantern caramel apple.
We started a tradition making these caramel apples a few years ago for our annual Halloween party and it is something we look forward to every year. The caramel is pretty forgiving once it reaches it’s caramelized stage. After cooking it all the way on the stove, you can transfer it to a crockpot and keep it warm on the “low” setting for 2-3 hours, if necessary, so that it stays molten long enough for caramel apple dipping at a party. You just need to make sure to stir the caramel well if it has been sitting for a while, otherwise some of the butter in the caramel might separate enough to create a thin layer on the top of the caramel that will coat your apples before the caramel has a chance to stick. The caramel won’t separate all the way, but even a super thin layer of unincorporated butter on the top of your caramel is enough to make the skin of the apple too slick for the sticky caramel to adhere to it. Stirring just makes sure the caramel is consistent throughout.
But just because homemade caramel apples seem to hit their stride in October doesn’t mean that caramel apples should just be a Halloween-related thing. The fresh, crisp apple with chewy, sweet caramel combo is a timeless one and you can really have these anytime of the year. They make wonderful gifts or party favors and I actually think they are a perfect summertime treat when you want something sweet but not super heavy.
Before you start making your caramel, go ahead and get your apples set up by washing them well and sticking tongue depressors (or popsicle sticks or even sturdy, cleaned twigs for a really rustic look) into the apple, right down through the core. Then set your apples on a baking sheet lined with waxed 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.
When it comes to making the caramel, there is just a few important things to remember. First, make sure you have a good candy thermometer on hand. 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. Also, be sure to 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.
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 apples with just pecans or toasted coconut, 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), 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.
Since gourmet apples like these can be tricky to bite into, the easiest way to eat them is to cut them into slices. Just use a large, sharp knife to slice off one whole side of the apple, close to the core. Then turn and slice the other side, rotate the apple another quarter turn and slice, and then once more for the final side. This also makes it easy to share an apple!
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup corn syrup
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 10-15 tart apples
- 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
Line a baking sheet with wax 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 waxed 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!
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.
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.
Like what you see here? Be sure to sign up to join my mailing list so you don't miss out on more recipes like this one!