The best homemade caramel apples recipe! Tart apples are coated with a sweet and buttery homemade caramel and rolled in salty nuts for a delicious fall dessert. Learn how to make caramel apples with our step-by-step instructions & video!
Line a large baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or greased wax paper, set aside.
Locate your instant read thermometer and have it close by.
Prepare the apples:
Wash the apples thoroughly to remove the waxy coating. This step is critical to make sure the caramel sticks to the apples and doesn't just slide off. I use a clean, rough sponge and warm water to gently rough up the skin and remove the wax. Using organic apples without the wax coating is preferred.
Dry thoroughly with a towel and set out on the prepared baking sheet.
Carefully insert the sticks.
Place the apples on the prepared baking sheet and put them in the refrigerator. Chilling the apples & baking sheet helps prevent the caramel from sliding off the apples.
Crush the peanuts
There are many ways to crush peanuts, here are two I recommend: 1) Put the peanuts in food processor or blender and pulse 3 times (or until they are chopped but be careful not to turn them into peanut butter). 2) put them in a nut milk bag or plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin or by hitting them with a large measuring cup (my kids’ favorite way to help).
Make the caramel:
Combine butter, corn syrup, condensedmilk, brown sugar and sea salt in a heavy-bottomed 4-quartsaucepan.
Cook over medium-low heat until the caramel reaches 235-240 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, making sure not to let any of the mixture on the bottom or sides burn or get too brown. This takes about 20-25 minutes. Do not rush it.
You will know you’re getting close when the caramel becomes slightly darker brown in color (but it’s still light brown), thickens and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan as you stir. It will also remain solid when removed from the pot and left to cool or put in cold water.
When the caramel is finished cooking, remove from heat, add vanilla and stir vigorously.
Dip apples into the caramel one at a time, carefully turning them to coat.
Immediately roll the dipped apples into desired toppings, in this case, crushed peanuts. You can also leave them plain if you'd like.
Set onto the prepared baking sheet to harden. To speed up the process put the finished caramel apples in the refrigerator. Remove 30-60 minutes before serving so the caramel is soft.
Apples. You can choose any apple variety to make these homemade caramel apples. I prefer granny smith or pink lady apples for their tart flavor. I suggest buying organic apples that do not have a waxy coating because the caramel sticks to them better. (more on this later).
Peanuts. I love salted peanuts, you can use any nut (almonds, cashews, pecans, etc.) Other suggestions include:
Sprinkles - especially festive fall sprinkles.
Candy. Mini M&Ms, chopped chocolate bars, etc.
Salted butter. I always use salted butter (plus additional sea salt) when making caramel because it helps stabilize the candy mixture so the butter doesn't separate. I don't recommend making substitutions.
Light brown sugar. Dark brown sugar can be used in place of light for a caramel with a more pronounced molasses taste.
I suggest slicing the caramel apples to serve them because they are much easier to eat that way.
Store these homemade caramel apples in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, whole. Remove 30-60 minutes before serving so the caramel has some time to soften.
I've run into two problems making homemade caramel, and here is how I've dealt with them:
The butter separates during cooking– if this happens, remove the caramel from the heat and beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula.
The caramel has little crystalized bits in it. If this happens you are using a pan that isn’t thick enough on the bottom and causing the sugar to burn and create flecks in the caramel. Use a thick-bottomed, heavy duty pan and this problem will disappear.
Caramel slides off apples. Use organic apples without a waxy coating. Or thoroughly wash and dry the apples to remove any waxy coating that may be present.
Mistakes to avoid when making caramel
Using a thin pot – it heats unevenly. Use a tall, heavy-bottomed pot.
Using a dirty pot – I did this and got flecks in my caramel.
Not using a candy thermometer.
Cooking at too high heat If the temperature gets too hot and the caramel becomes too hard as it cools, you can put it back in the pan with a couple of tablespoons of cold water to try and save it.