This homemade caramel for apples recipe is easy to make with 5 ingredients! Use it to make THE BEST gourmet caramel apples at home.
As long as I can remember my mom has been making soft caramels, especially for the holidays. The last time that I made that recipe, I wondered if it would work as caramel for apples and decided to give a try and ended up with the best caramel apples ever!
What is the best apple for caramel apples?
Granny smith apples are hands down the best choice for caramel apples. Their tart crispness is the perfect complement to the chewy sweetness of the caramels. They are often more affordable than other apples and they are typically smaller in size. That being said, you can use any apple you prefer.
Start by removing the wax from the apples. Bring water to a boil and dip chilled granny smith apples in the boiling water for 10 seconds only.
How do you remove wax from apples?
Apples have a natural wax coating and sometimes an additional food-grade wax coating is added to preserve the apples. The wax is safe to eat but the caramel doesn’t stick to the wax very well.
We chose to use boiling water to soften the wax and then a rough towel to rub it off. Other option include using running the apples under hot water, soaking them in vinegar water, or scrubbing them with baking soda but I have not tested those methods.
Remove from the water with tongs and use a textured towel to rub off the wax.
Then, place the apple into an ice bath to chill while moving on to the next apple.
Finally, dry them off, insert sticks, and place them in the refrigerator to chill.
Next, put the butter, sweetened condensed milk, granulated sugar, and light corn syrup into a very large, microwave-safe bowl. The bowl needs to be large enough for the mixture to boil up.
Can I make caramel for apples with brown sugar?
This recipe calls for all granulated sugar and that’s how my mom has always made them. But yes, you can substitute light brown sugar for all or even part of the granulated sugar. The brown sugar will give the caramel more of that molasses flavor.
Start by microwaving the mixture on high for 5 minutes and then stir. The mixture is HOT so handle it with care.
Then, microwave at 50% power in 5 minutes intervals for 15-25 minutes total, or until caramel reaches 238˚F to 244˚F on a candy thermometer. It should have to be a deep golden color and should form a soft ball in cold water. Remove from the microwave and stir in the vanilla extract.
Can I make this caramel for apples recipe on the stovetop?
This caramel for apples recipe is cooked completely in the microwave which is the easiest way to make it! I tested this recipe on the stovetop and it was way more hands-on (stirring constantly) and harder to keep from burning. Having used both methods I can 100% recommend using the microwave but yes you can use the stovetop if you prefer.
Remove the prepared, chilled apples from the refrigerator. Dip the apples into the caramel completely covering them all of the way to the stick.
Gently twirl the caramel apple back and forth to allow the excess caramel to drip off. Then, flip the apple upside down (like a lollipop) and hold it like that for 20-30 seconds.
Place them on a parchment covered tray or rimmed baking pan and return them to the refrigerator.
How do you keep caramel from sliding off apples?
- Prep: Prepare the apples by removing the wax.
- Chill: We had the best luck with the caramel sticking to the apples when we started with chilled apples.
- Cooking: The caramel needs to be cooked to the right temperature using a candy thermometer. If it isn’t cooked long enough it won’t be sticky enough. And if it is cooked too long, the caramel will be too hard.
- Temperature: When dipping the apples, the caramel needs to be hot enough that it will easily coat the apples but not so hot that it runs off. You may need to allow the caramel to cool for a couple of minutes before dipping the apples.
- Flip: We had really good luck keeping the caramel on the apples by flipping the caramel apples upside down after dipping them and holding them in that position for about 20-30 seconds before placing them on the tray.
- Chill Again: Return the caramel apples to the refrigerator after dipping them so that the caramel cools more quickly and therefore has less time to run off.
You can store the caramel apples in the refrigerator for 2-3 days but we found that they were the best when eaten the same day that we made them.
How do I add toppings?
To keep this post focused on the caramel for apples, I made a separate post for the caramel apple recipes with all of the details about to make gourmet apples with various kinds of toppings and coatings.
- Dirt ‘n Worms Caramel Apple: A crunchy apple coated with caramel and white chocolate dipped in crushed Oreos and topped with a gummy worm.
- Apple Pie Cheesecake Caramel Apple: This apple is covered caramel and then dipped in white chocolate and coated with crushed graham crackers, brown sugar, and apple pie spices.
- Tiger Butter Caramel Apple: A granny smith apple that is first covered in caramel and then white chocolate with a chocolate and peanut butter swirl
Want more caramel apple desserts? Try these next:
This easy Caramel Apple Nachos recipe with crispy cinnamon sugar tortilla chips, caramel, whipped cream, and fresh apples is the most delicious fall dessert!
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Dessert is perfect for fall with a cheesecake layer topped with apple pie filling, caramel sauce, and whipped cream.
This Caramel Apple Pretzel Salad recipe is a delicious way to enjoy a taste of fall with crunchy apples, candied pretzels, and sweet caramel sauce.
Bloomin’ Baked Apples taste like apple pie with an ooey, gooey caramel center! This is an easy dessert recipe for fall and it’s made with honeycrisp apples.
OMFG!! This caramel came out gorgeous and sooo very buttery and rich tasting. I am a die-hard “carmel is made on the stove” baker but I was intrigued by this receipe. Came out perfect, I mean really, really perfect. It is stiff enough to cling to the apples and holds up to adding cookie crumbs, granola, chocolate chips, etc. on the apple. Thanks for sharing and I plan to use this again in the future for sure!
Randa Alahmad says
I love caramel apples and these look really good, if I don’t have a thermometer how do I know when the caramel is ready to use?? And do I need to put in fridge to set??
My mom goes by color but she’s been making caramels for many years. Soft ball stage is 235°F to 245°F. At this stage, if you drop a bit of the caramel into cold water it forms a soft ball. The caramel will eventually set at room temperature but we put them into the refrigerator to set quickly before the caramel runs off of the apples.
Can you cook the caramel on the stove instead of the microwave
I’ve tried making this recipe on the stove but didn’t get the same results.
Hi Tonia, I love this recipe!! I’ve got a question about the caramel. Do you know what temp to go to if I wanted to keep it more fluid but not much,? I’d like to use it to fill chocolate bon bons. I love the flavor. Thanks.
I’ve never tried filling bon bons with a fluid caramel. I do have a recipe for chocolate covered caramels (https://www.thegunnysack.com/chocolate-covered-caramel/) but they are chewy. And I have a recipe for caramel syrup (https://www.thegunnysack.com/ice-cream-topping-recipe-caramel-syrup/) that does set when cooled but I’m not sure how it would work in bon bons.
Best of luck,