As I was saying yesterday, I made caramel apples for Meredith and Doug’s wedding. I’ve been making caramel apples with Jo for many Halloweens now. I think we’ve learned a lot over the years. It became apparent to me when I was talking to Meredith’s sister, who also made caramel apples for the wedding but had a terrible experience. So, here’s my recipe and some tips if you ever want to make some foolproof caramel apples:
• Make your own caramel. Many recipes recommend unwrapping the pre-made caramel squares and then melting them with a bit of milk or water. It takes so long to unwrap those things that you could have made a pot of caramel twice over.
• Follow this link. It a really excellent description for making caramel in as foolproof way as possible.
• Use a candy thermometer. The old ‘drop a ball of sugar in cold water’ trick isn’t effective – by the time you test the sugar it will already have cooked past the stage.
• Focus on reaching the softball stage and then pouring the caramel into a new bowl immediately. Keeping the caramel from getting any firmer than softball stage means that the caramel will be chewy when eaten and will lengthen the time you have to work on pressing the goodies into the caramel.
• Even if you don’t like the recipe that I’ve used (a modified version of this one) stick with a brown sugar based recipe. White sugar makes an excellent candy but you just can’t get the right flavour and colour without the molasses from the brown sugar.
• Use a tart, almost sour apple for dipping. The contrast between the bold crisp apple and sweet, creamy caramel is what really makes the difference. I use Granny Smith.
• Wash the apples well and scrub them a bit when drying them. The wax that most farmers coat the apples with these days will prevent the caramel from sticking.
• Craft-style popsicle sticks make the most sturdy support for the apples but for a decorative touch, I use cinnamon sticks. You need to sort of “pre-drill” a whole for the cinnamon sticks using a chopstick or something similar. I use a meat thermometer.
So now – for the recipe (makes 24 - 30 apples).
Select your toppings (see the notes a little further down) and prepare them ahead of time, placing each in a cereal bowl for dipping apples after the caramel has been prepared.
Add the following to a heavy bottomed 4 quart saucepan
• 1kg g bag of dark brown sugar
• 1 lb of unsalted butter
• 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk
• 500 ml of golden corn syrup
• 1 tsp of vanilla
• 2 tsp of molasses
• ½ tsp of salt
Heat it all very slowly over low heat until the sugar is completely melted, stirring with a wooden spoon. You need to check this by taking the warmed mixture and rubbing it between your fingers. You need to feel absolute no gritty-ness. If you ensure that there are no crystals left now, it will protect you later from having your caramel crystallize.
Turn up the heat so that the ingredients reach a soft boil while stirring (use a new, clean wooden spoon). Add the candy thermometer. Continue stirring constantly yet slowly until the temperature of the sugar reaches the softball stage (236 C). I kept my caramel cooking just below a rolling boil. Some soft bubbles would be occaisonally breaking through the surface but no more than two at a time. This allows me to cook the sugar in a very controlled way, reducing my concern for developing crystals in the sugar. My best advice to you is to KEEP IT UNDER CONTROL. Otherwise, you'll never get repeatable foolproof caramel. Also - my pot only just barely contained my caramel, so it was not necessary for me to wash down the sides of the pot. If your pot is tall and you notice that the steam eminating from your caramel is cooling along the pot edges, leaving behind some solid sugar -- you can use a wet pastry brush to wash those sugar crystals back into the caramel.
Immediately pour out the caramel into a glass or metal bowl. Allow the caramel to cool to 200 C. Meanwhile, prepare 2 – 3 cookie sheets with waxed paper or parchment and very lightly butter them.
Dip all 25 apples into the caramel, one at a time and get the caramel covering the apple right up to the tip of the stick. This won’t take very long. Try to allow most of the caramel to drip off the apple before moving it to the buttered wax paper.
Then, in the order that they were dipped, pick up the first apple and reform the caramel around the bottom of the apple. It should be pliable. Quickly roll the soft caramel-coated apple into your favorite topping and return to the cookie sheet. Another good trick is to hold the apple in one hand and press the toppings into the caramel with the other. Repeat, working somewhat swiftly, for the remaining apples.
Some of the most successful toppings I’ve used are: buttered spiced almonds, s’mores (mini-chocolate chips, mini-marshmallows, and pieces of graham crackers), cinnamon sugar, mini-oreos, chocolate chips, toasted pecans, Halloween M&Ms, Skor bar pieces.
Some toppings, like the mini oreos, may require you to press them individually into the caramel.
Allow the caramel apples to cool completely to room temperature and then package.
Some other notes:
• About toppings – truly, the sky is the limit. Salty treats seem to go particularly well with the sweet caramel. Toppings may need to be coarsely chopped to make it easier to affix to the caramel apples. Pieces of larger items should be about the size of a dime or less.
• If you’d like, you can also dip the cooled caramel apples into tempered dark or milk chocolate. If you want a very decadent apple, you can dip the caramel apples with toppings attached into tempered chocolate. Yummy!
• I don’t normally do it, but a coordinating colour drizzle can be used to add a decorative touch to the apples. Temper some chocolate or reheat the leftover caramel to make it pourable, and using a spoon or knife tip, drizzle it over the apples.
• The caramel that’s leftover can be reused. It can be reheated for caramel sauce or used for dipping more apples the next day (if, say, you get tired dipping all 25 of these at once) by reheating slowly back up to 200 C.
• ½ litre gusseted candy bags are big enough to hold one apple. Tie them closed with a piece of ribbon around the stick.
Here's some inspiration and more informative links:
Caramel Apples on Wikipedia
Carmelizing Sugar at 'Ask a Scientist'
And finally a question (I'll be surprised if anybody reads this far down, so at this point I doubt I'll ever get this question anwered): I don't know why the Epicurious recipe says that it's not only ok to stir the caramel once it's boiling but it's recommended when every other caramel recipe I've read implores the cook not to stir the caramel for fear of causing crystallization in the sugar. Can anyone explain it to me?