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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!
Gourmet Homemade Caramel Apples
You know those huge, fabulous gourmet caramel apples you can buy at a really good chocolatier or candy shop like Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory?
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!
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. It was a total splurge for us because we were broke undergrads, but I love those memories so much!
Honestly, even though those caramel apples 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.
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.
The biggest issue to watch for (and this really is a big problem if it happens) is if the butter in the caramel separates because then none of the caramel will stick to the apples.
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.
Prep the apples
I also wash all of the apples in advance so that I don't have to worry about that on the day of the party. The waxy coating on the outside of apples can cause the caramel to slip off, so it's a good idea to use hot water to wash it off as best you can.
Then dry the apples really well and keep them in the fridge so they will be nice and cold (which will also help the caramel set faster).
What are the best apples for caramel apples?
Since the caramel itself is so sweet, I think the best apples for caramel apples are tart, firm Granny Smith apples. Not only do they have great flavor and texture, but I think the color makes for the prettiest presentation with the vibrant green peeking through.
My second choice would be honeycrisp apples though.
I always look for apples that are on the smaller size, since by the time the apples are covered in caramel and other toppings, they start looking rather massive!
Making Caramel Apples is a Fun School Activity
I took a triple batch of caramel to my daughter's Kindergarten class and kept in warm in the slow cooker. We dipped and decorated apples for their Halloween party, which was so much fun! Then 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.
Incidentally, it's been 4 years since I first posted this recipe and my daughter and her friends have requested this activity every Halloween. It's always a hit!
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.
Gourmet Caramel Apples make great gifts!
These homemade caramel apples are always one of my most popular posts around Halloween time, 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!
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.
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 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 . 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 caramel apple to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
The best technique for dipping is to plunge the apple in and out, 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.
Tips for the Best Caramel Apples
When it comes to making the caramel, there is just a few important things to remember.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Refrigerate your caramel apples to keep them fresh. They will last for about 2 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
- melted white, milk, or dark chocolate
- cinnamon sugar
- crushed butterfingers, snickers, or other candy bars
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 apples this way than attempting to bite into them whole!
More Recipes for Caramel Lovers!
- Easy Homemade Cream Caramels
- Carmelitas (Oatmeal, Chocolate, Caramel Bars)
- Homemade Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns
- Easy Buttermilk Caramel Syrup
- Salted Caramel Pumpkin Panna Cotta
- Twix Caramel Popcorn
- Caramel Oreo Fudge Ripple Ice Cream
- Salted Caramel Apple Pie
- Easy Caramel Pecan Brownies
- Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce
- Caramel Cake
Homemade Caramel Apples
- 10-15 tart Granny Smith apples
Caramel for dipping
- 1 cup salted butter
- 2 cups light brown sugar
- 1 cup corn syrup
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 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 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.
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!
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!
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, 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!
And just for fun - here are some of my original photos from when I first posted this recipe back in 2016!