The History of Caramel Apples, and How to Make Them at Home
Of all of the many sweet treats we indulge in throughout the fall and winter, perhaps the most representative of all things sugar-coated and autumnal is the caramel apple. After all, two of our absolute favorite activities once the leaves have started to change include picking apples and digging into stashes of candy—both of which are brought together in this one simple and satisfying confection.
Though Halloween has been celebrated for centuries, caramel apples didn’t make their debut until the 1950s when they were created somewhat accidentally as a byproduct of the very holiday they’ve come to represent. While the first red candy apple was created by a New Jersey man in 1908, who sold the shiny, hard-shelled confections for 5 cents a pop in his store, caramel apples didn’t come along for a few more decades.
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The very first caramel apple was created when a Kraft Foods employee named Dan Walker melted down some of the company’s large stock of soft caramels left over after Halloween, and dipped apples into the mixture as a healthier and crunchier counterpart to the soft candy. For years after their invention, caramel apples were dipped by hand—until 1960 when the first caramel apple dipping machine was invented by Chicago candy shop worker Vito Raimondi, whose uncle’s confectionary company is still the number one machine-dipped caramel apple company in business today.
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Since its invention, the caramel apple has evolved into a candy-coated art form, some of which are massive, eye-catching showstoppers topped with everything from melted chocolate to cookie crumbles to crushed nuts. And while the majority of people have enjoyed one of these toothsome creations straight from a confectionary, many have yet to make the classic dessert in their own home. Follow these simple steps for creating the perfect caramel apple and you’ll be chowing down on these homemade treats all season long.
Step One: Prep Your Apples
Before any dipping or decorating begins, you want to make sure your apples are in the perfect condition for taking on the hot caramel. Insert popsicle sticks—which can be purchased in grocery or craft stores, and online—straight down through the top of the apple where the stem grows. Place your apples in the refrigerator, and allow them to cool for an hour, as the caramel will harden more quickly on chilled fruit.
Step Two: Make Your Caramel
While making a perfect caramel sauce can seem like a daunting task—after all, caramel is a notoriously fussy recipe that requires constant attention—with the right ingredients and a little patience, anyone can make a great caramel.
If possible, use a stainless steel, flat-bottomed saucepan that has been well cleaned. Over medium heat, add the ingredients of a simple caramel sauce, which will have a sugary base ranging from white sugar, to brown, to a mixture. Bring the ingredients to a boil and allow it to cook for around 3 minutes, until the liquid is clear and the sugar has dissolved. Try your best to stir the sauce as little as possible, with the exception of scraping the mixture away from the sides to prevent burning.
Then, grab a candy thermometer and continue boiling for about 4 minutes, checking the temperature every 10-15 seconds until the mixture has turned a deep amber color and the temperature has reached about 350 degrees. Then, slowly mix in some heavy cream and vanilla, whisking the mixture constantly over low heat for about a minute before removing it from the heat completely.
For an easier—and less risky—option, you can start with a base of pre-made caramel candies, melted in a saucepan with heavy cream until smooth. Or, if you’re running extra low on time there is always this quicker microwave-friendly caramel apple recipe that will do the trick … we won’t tell if you don’t.
Step Three: Dipping Time
Once you’ve perfected your caramel mixture, add your sauce to a shallow bowl, making sure to not allow the candy to chill too much before you begin dipping. While holding the stick, dip each apple individually into the caramel, twirling the fruit in a circle until it’s completely coated. Allow any excess to drip back into the bowl before placing the apple stick-up on a wax paper or parchment paper-covered baking sheet.
Step Four: Get Creative
After your apples have been dipped, get creative with the coatings, setting out bowls of candy, nuts, and other sweet and salty additions, so that each person can customize their apple with the toppings of their choice. Some of our favorites include crushed peanuts, mini M&Ms, candy corn, and toffee crumbles.
For some extra pizazz, create a hardening chocolate shell sauce and drizzle it over your apples for an added layer of sweetness. After you’ve customized all of your apples, you can opt to let them harden at room temperature, or place in the fridge to save time. In the end, you’ll realize the hardest part of making caramel apples is stopping yourself and your family from digging in right away.
For more caramel apple-inspired recipes, check out these recipes for Caramel Apple French Toast Skillets and Caramel Apple Brownie Cheesecake.