How to Make Traditional Caramel Apples

Learn how to make homemade caramel for out-of-this-world classic caramel apples.

Caramel apples are a classic symbol of fall. The crisp, tart apples paired with sinfully sweet caramel is a marriage of flavors that’s both comforting and somehow refreshing. Sure, pre-made caramel apples are available at grocery stores and farm markets during the autumn months. It’s hard to beat homemade caramel apples, though!

The process of making homemade caramel may sound intimidating, but it’s easier than you think and results in caramel apple perfection. Keep reading to learn how to make from-scratch caramel apples.

What Are the Best Apples to Use for Caramel Apples?

You can use just about any type of apple to make caramel apples. However, we find that the best results come from using apples that have a tart flavor profile and a firm, crisp consistency are best.

Granny Smith are the most popular variety for caramel apples because their extra-tart flavor balances beautifully with the sweet caramel. However, if you want something a little less sour, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Pink Lady, Jonagold and even Gala are all suitable apples. You want to avoid Red Delicious, though, since this apple tends to become mushy and mealy more easily.

Choose Small Apples

When selecting your apples, smaller apples often are the best choice. They will be easier to dip and offer a better ratio of apple to caramel flavor. Be sure to inspect the bottom of your apples carefully, too. Look for apples with a flat, even bottom. This helps ensure your apples will sit level and not roll over once dipped in delectable caramel.

Pick Your Own

The best apples for caramel apples are the ones you pick yourself (find the best orchard near you). Besides being a fun fall activity, apples picked from an orchard often lack the waxy coating you see on most apples in grocery stores. While there’s nothing dangerous about this waxy coating, it can make coating your apples in caramel tricky.

If you do go the grocery store route for your apples, make sure to clean off the wax. To remove the wax, dip each apple into boiling water for 3 to 5 seconds, then wipe it with a paper towel. You can use a paper towel dipped in apple cider vinegar or a mixture of baking soda and lemon juice to remove more stubborn wax coatings.

How to Make Traditional Caramel Apples, Step by Step

This recipe for homemade caramel apples, shared by Kansas reader Karen Ann Bland, makes 8 apples.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 medium tart apples
  • 8 wooden sticks

Directions

Step 1: Prepare caramel

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and milk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently until mixture reaches 248° (firm-ball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in vanilla.

Step 2: Dip the apples

dipping a green apple into homemade caramelLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Insert wooden sticks into apples using firm pressure. Next, dip each apple into the hot caramel mixture, turning to coat. Lift the apple from the caramel and allow any excess caramel to drip off. Set on a piece of parchment paper to cool.

Step 3: Decorate with toppings

topping ideas for homemade caramel applesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

If desired, roll, sprinkle or drizzle your caramel apples with your favorite decorations once the caramel has cooled but is still tacky. Rainbow sprinkles, chopped nuts and melted chocolate are all delicious and popular options. Return to the parchment to finish cooling.

How Long Do Homemade Caramel Apples Last?

Your caramel apples are always best eaten the same day they are prepared. However, they can also be saved for future enjoyment if properly stored.

We don’t recommend leaving caramel apples out overnight, mainly for food safety reasons. Once punctured with a wooden dowel, caramel apples can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, like listeria. For best results, keep any uneaten caramel apples in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Caramel Apple Tips + Decorating Ideas

homemade caramel apples decorate with various toppingsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

While making caramel apples is fairly easy, there are a few best practices you should follow to guarantee the best results. Here are a few of our favorite tricks.

Use Cold Apples

We’ve found that refrigerated apples deliver the best caramel apples. The coolness of the apple helps set the caramel quickly and smoothly compared to apples stored at room temperature.

Make Sure Apples Are Dry

As with any recipe made with fresh apples, you should always wash your produce prior to preparing or consuming. When making caramel apples, be sure to dry the apples thoroughly prior to dipping them in the caramel. Excess water on the skin can cause the caramel to bubble and stick poorly to the apple.

One Dip Is All It Takes

Resist the urge to double dip! For a perfectly smooth, even coating, dip the apples in a single, fluid motion and then turn in the caramel. Once coated, lift the apple out and let any excess caramel drip off.

Use a Pastry Bag

Add some decorative details to your apples by using a pastry bag fitted with a small tip and filled with melted chocolate to make polka dots, stripes, swirls, flowers or other fun designs on your caramel apples.

Decorate the Sticks

Don’t forget about the sticks! Tying a simple silk bow around the stick of each caramel apple or wrapping the sticks with thin, multi-colored ribbons secured with a tiny dot of non-toxic glue is a great way to dress up your apples.

Use Steam to Soften the Caramel

If you’re having a difficult time getting any toppings to stick to your caramel apples, it’s likely because the caramel set too quickly. No worries, you can soften the caramel again. Hold the coated apples over a small saucepan filled with boiling water (be careful!). The hot steam will envelop the apple and soften just the outermost layer of caramel so toppings will adhere with ease.

Be Creative

Let your imagination run wild when preparing your caramel apples. Chopped peanuts, sprinkles and melted chocolate are the most traditional caramel apple toppings, but they’re far from your only options. Here are a few other ideas to inspire you:

  • Candy: Roll in mini M&M’s, Reese’s Pieces and/or chopped Snickers
  • Apple crisp: Roll in granola and walnuts, drizzle with melted white chocolate and dust with cinnamon
  • Pumpkin pie: Drizzle with melted white chocolate mixed with a little orange food coloring and dust with pumpkin pie spice and graham cracker crumbs
  • Cookies and cream: Dip in melted white chocolate and roll in crushed Oreos
  • Salted caramel: Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and add a drizzle of melted chocolate
  • Chocolate turtle: Roll in roasted pecans and drizzle with milk or dark chocolate
  • Campfire s’mores: Roll in melted marshmallows, drizzle with melted milk chocolate and dust with graham cracker crumbs
The Best Caramel Apple-Inspired Recipes to Make Next
1 / 33

Popular Videos

Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.