Do you have fond memories of biting into a homemade caramel apples at a state fair or old fashion candy shop? One made with a crisp apple coated with thick and creamy caramel that stuck to your teeth but you did not mind a bit because you enjoyed the flavor as it slowly dissolved in your mouth.
It is hard to find really good caramel apples now. Especially ones made with wholesome ingredients and not artificial flavors, colors, or corn syrup. When one of my best friends gave us a freshly made caramel apple drizzled with milk and white chocolate over the holidays, she inspired me to make my own for Valentine’s Day. Of course, I asked her to help and we had a fabulous time chatting while we tackled making the homemade caramels.
I could not decide which caramel recipe to make so we made both. The first one is made with honey, fleur de sel, cream, and cardamom from Food 52 and Not Without Salt. (you really should look at her blog) If you love honey, try this recipe but make sure you use a tart apple like Granny Smith and add lots of walnuts or hazelnuts. I loved the walnuts with this rich and creamy caramel. It is absolutely delicious.
The second caramel resembles most of the caramels you find in an old fashion candy shop but it is a little more gourmet with the real vanilla bean and fleur de sel salt. It goes with everything and can be made in about 5 minutes. This caramel can burn fast though so do not walk away from it when boiling. At the end of the post, I will share some pictures of why you never walk away from caramel boiling in a pot. Everyone makes mistakes cooking and that is part of the fun if you can laugh about it and have enough ingredients to make another batch!
Since we wanted these apples to be the very best ones you have ever sink your teeth into, we really focused on the ingredients. Buy the best chocolate you can afford. Avoid chocolates with vegetable oils. Look for ones made with real cacao, milk, sugar, and real vanilla. White chocolate is typically more expensive due to the amount of cocoa butter and milk. It is also more temperamental when melting. Here are some tips:
Melting Chocolate Tips
- Do not add butter to white chocolate when melting. Butter is fine with milk chocolate.
- Try to use a double boiler to melt the chocolate slowly or use a sauce pan over very low heat.
- Remove the pot from the heat when half of the white chocolate has melted. Place a towel under the pot and stir the chocolate to melt the rest without any heat. This prevents the white chocolate from seizing.
- Add coconut oil or a non GMO vegetable oil if the white chocolate seizes or thickens too much. Add 1 teaspoon at a time and mix until you reach the right consistency. It should be a little runny so it is easy to squeeze out of a pastry bag. read more
Food 52 has a fabulous post on making caramel and I recommend reading it before you begin. It will provide you comfort when making caramel for the first time. (I wish they had given proportions for the caramel they were describing.) Caramel is easy to make if you know what you are looking for and timing matters. 30 seconds can make the difference between perfect or burnt caramel.
1) Select large, crisp apples. Granny Smiths are a little tart and compliment the caramel perfectly. You can also use tart, firm pears. Purchase organic walnuts or hazelnuts. We used Trader Joes nuts. Use a rolling pin to crush the nuts in a plastic bag. Place them in a large casserole dish to roll the caramel coated apples in the nuts.
2) Purchase dowel sticks at a craft store like Hobby Lobby. A larger dowel gives a more substantial look to the gift. Push the stick in with all your weight over it so you can control that the stick is straight, regardless of whether the apple sits level or not.
3) Boil a stock pot with water to remove the wax from the apples so the caramel does not slide off. When boiling, place the apple in on a tilt (45 degrees), for long enough to twist around for 360 degrees at least 3 times. This will “burn off” the natural wax on the apple. Set aside to dry.
4) Once all the apples have dried, they should have a slight white film on them. Run them through the boiling water again, same as prior for 3-4 turns on a tilt to allow the wax to “burn off”.
5) Make your caramel. Follow one of the Honey and Cardamom or Vanilla Bean and Fleur de Sel Recipes. Below is the Honey and Cardamom caramel. The ice bath is crucial for this caramel to not over cook.
6) Dip the apples in the caramel and then place on top of the nuts. Start pressing the nuts in on the bottom and work your way toward the top. Pour the walnuts on the sides and top and press. Once pressed solidly into top and bottom, lay the apples down on its side and press the balance of the open caramel space with walnuts. Press them hard to secure their place. Your hands may hurt after doing a lot of apples! Let stand for up to 48 hours to cool and stiffen. We cooled them overnight. (If you have left over nuts, save them for granola or top on greek yogurt…they will have some yummy caramel left on them.)
7) Once the apples are solid, melt the milk chocolate in a double boiler on sauce pan on very low heat. Roll the caramel apples in the chocolate to coat the bottom, sides and top. The milk chocolate should be thick to coat the nuts and caramel. Place in the refrigerator again for 30 minutes while you are melting the white chocolate. (Note: Nestle White Chocolate chips do not seize as much as one made with more cacao like Valrhona which has egg protein or Ghirardelli but I think the later chocolates taste much better.)
Once the chocolate has hardened, place the melted white chocolate into a pastry bag with a tip. Gently drizzle from the stem down to the point of curve in the apple where it turns down to the base and the chocolate will not adhere any longer. Circle the entire apple with white chocolate or create hearts or other shapes.
8) When dry, wrap with two pieces of cellophane paper. Buy a roll and cut the cellophane down the middle and then cut the other side so it is a square or long rectangle. Tie with a beautiful ribbon or bakers twine. Use an additional small ribbon and tie bells at ends for a festive look for the holidays. Keep refrigerated until eaten to keep freshness.
These caramel apples make the perfect gift for all occasions. Most people think about caramel apples in the fall when you can buy the enormous, organic Granny Smiths or Honey Crisps. Luckily, you can buy really good apples year round so enjoy them as much as you want. I cannot wait to give these out for Valentine’s Day. Everyone will know they were made with love. Enjoy!
Now here is what caramel looks like if you do not watch it closely. It looks like blown glass when it cools. 30 seconds is all it took for this caramel to turn on me.