Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Make Caramel Apples from Scratch

Last month Engineer W and I went apple picking for the first time ever. I think we overestimated how many apples we could eat, because we each picked a peck (umm why is this still a unit?). Fast forward a few weeks and we still have a bunch of apples left in the fridge. I thought it would be fun to turn some into caramel apples.

I'm sure everyone has made caramel apples before by simply melting those little premade cubes and rolling apples in the resulting goop. That's fine if you like the taste of manufactured caramels, but personally I find that they have a bitter/sour aftertaste. I was looking for a better alternative when I stumbled upon this online recipe. The only ingredients we didn't already have on hand were the light corn syrup and the sweetened condensed milk. Note that you also need a candy thermometer (we got ours from Target).

Interesting aside: why use corn syrup when you could just add more sugar? I asked my friend Google, and it seems that the combination of corn syrup and sugar is what makes the whole thing chewy. Otherwise, you might end up with toffee (also dangerously easy to make).

The first step is to insert the handles into your apples. You can use popsicle sticks if you want, but I happen to have some bamboo chopsticks lying around. Sadly I broke the tip of one trying to jam it through the core of a particularly hardy apple (see bottom left). Lesson learned: if it won't go through the center, don't force it. Just poke it through the off-center flesh.

The second step is to put all of your ingredients EXCEPT the vanilla extract in a pot and turn the heat to medium-high to melt everything together. The recipe says to turn down the heat to medium after the molten candy begins to boils, but I think this step depends on your stove. Personally I would just keep the temperature at medium-high the whole time, stirring constantly to make sure nothing burns, and only turn down the temperature at the very end.

Eventually the candy will begin to bubble and change color. At this point, be very careful. Some of the bubbles may burst and spew burning hot caramel sauce. Engineer W accidentally got a little splashed on his hand, and that spot instantly turned bright red. In retrospect, the safer thing to do is to wear an oven mitt while stirring.

When the temperature reaches 248 degrees F, remove the pot from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. At this point, our vanilla caramel was still boiling. We immediately began dipping the apples in the thick liquid and set them on parchment paper to cool. However, this process produced some unsightly air bubbles. My suggestion is to wait a minute for the caramel to stop boiling, but don't wait too long. It solidifies quickly.

Add your favorite toppings (try sea salt), patiently wait for the caramel to cool, and then bon appetit! I forgot to take a picture of our taste test, but rest assured: they were delicious! The caramel was very rich and chewy. It did stick to my teeth a bit, so I wouldn't recommend this for anyone with braces.

My final chef's notes: We used 4 different apple varieties above, but I think Granny Smith was the taste test winner. Since the caramel is so sweet, you need a tart and crunchy apple to balance the flavor. Sea salt was a great addition, because it also helped cut the richness.

Have you ever made caramel apples before? What's your favorite caramel apple topping?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the recipe, Engineer L. They sound absolutely delicious! My 9 year-old has been asking for caramel apples for a couple of weeks now, so I am definitely going to try making these. Like you, I have all the ingredients expect for light corn syrup (which I just used up) and sweetened condensed milk, otherwise I would give them a try this afternoon. Love the idea of the sea salt on them, too. I'm sure that is very good.