Homemade Caramel Apples

Learn how to make real homemade caramel apples with my success tips, video tutorial, and carefully explained recipe. This from-scratch caramel is buttery, sweet, and if cooked a little longer, is also excellent for soft caramel candies. This festive fall dessert is always fun to make, decorate, serve, and eat!

caramel apples

Fall is in full swing and what better way to celebrate than with a traditional county fair inspired treat?! I originally published homemade caramel apples in my cookbook Sally’s Candy Addiction. There you’ll also find candy how-to’s and recipes including toffee, candy apples, caramels, fudge, truffles, chocolate bark, taffy, and marshmallows. I decided to slightly adapt my original recipe, adding a little more butter and corn syrup for a softer, silkier caramel coating.

Real Homemade Caramel Apples

We’re making homemade caramel apples with caramel cooked completely from scratch on the stove. No store-bought caramel candies or coatings because you can truly taste the difference between that and homemade. If cooked a little longer, this real caramel can be made into soft caramel candies like my sea salt vanilla caramels. Today I’m sharing the recipe, all my recommended tools, tips for success, and showing you a video tutorial so you can see just how easy it is to make real caramel for homemade caramel apples.

caramel apples


Caramel Apples Video Tutorial


What Does the Caramel Taste Like?

My salted caramel is perfect for garnishing desserts, filling cakes, and as a dip for apple slices. However, it’s not suitable for coating apples because it’s too thin and won’t set properly– it’s missing corn syrup and the proper sugar to fat ratio.

The homemade caramel we’ll use for caramel apples is soft, chewy, buttery, a little taffy-like, and adheres to the apple easily. If applied lightly, the caramel won’t pool down at the bottom of the apple. Let’s break down the ingredients you need for homemade caramel coating and why each are imperative to the taste and texture. Cooking candy is actual chemistry, so there’s no room for substitutions.

Ingredients in Real Homemade Caramel

  1. Heavy Cream: Heavy cream/heavy whipping cream is the base for caramel. Any milk or half-and-half are too thin and won’t cook properly.
  2. Light Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is liquid sugar made from corn. Like all refined sugars, corn syrup doesn’t have an ideal nutritional profile. (Corn syrup used in home kitchens is not high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS goes through an additional refining process.) Corn syrup is required as it acts as the sticky, taffy-like base for caramel apples. Without it, the caramel will slide right off the apple (just as my salted caramel would). Though other liquid sweeteners can sometimes be substituted for corn syrup, candy making is not one of those instances. For organic non-GMO corn syrup, I like Wholesome brand.
  3. Brown Sugar: Brown sugar is softer and more flavorful than regular white sugar, so I love using it in caramel coating recipes.
  4. Butter: Butter adds unbeatable flavor and a desirably soft texture.
  5. Salt & Vanilla Extract: Both ingredients add incredible flavor. Add the vanilla extract after you remove the cooked caramel from heat.

homemade caramel apple

How to Make Homemade Caramel Apples

Now that you have your ingredients, let’s make caramel apples. First, rinse and dry the apples. Apples have a waxy coating that will prevent the caramel from sticking, so it’s important to wash and dry it off. Make sure the apples are cold, which helps prevent the caramel from slipping off.

Pull out the apple’s stem and insert a caramel apple stick.

For the caramel, cook the first 5 ingredients on the stove until the candy reaches 235°F (113°C), known as the Soft Ball Stage in candy cooking terms. Reaching 235°F (113°C) should take about 15 – 20 minutes, though don’t use the time as your stopping point because it really depends on your stove– electric stoves may take a little longer than gas stoves. But you won’t mind waiting because this caramel smells INCREDIBLE as it cooks. Some readers have been cooking to 240°F (116°C) and saying the caramel sticks much better to the apples that way. Stick with anywhere between 235°F – 240°F.

Remove caramel from heat, then stir in the vanilla. Allow caramel to cool for a few minutes, then dip your apples. Let the excess caramel drip off, then place on a nonstick surface such as a silicone baking mat lined baking sheet.

Enjoy immediately or let the caramel set, about 45 minutes. Once set, you can wrap the caramel apples in cellophane for travel or gifting. Stand the apples in these adorable cellophane bags, then wrap the cellophane around the stick with a cute ribbon. Sweetest homemade gift around.

Slow Cooker to Keep Warm

Caramel must be prepared on the stove as instructed. However, after the caramel has cooked, you can keep it warm in a slow cooker on the low setting. Give it a gentle stir every 10 minutes to ensure the butter doesn’t separate. This is a great idea if you want to have a party where everyone can coat their own caramel apples!

Best Apples for Caramel Apples

You can use any variety of apple you enjoy such as Granny Smith, Fuji, or Honeycrisp. Granny Smith are a popular choice for caramel apples because they’re tart, which pairs perfectly with sweet buttery caramel. Whichever variety you use, look for:

  • small to medium size
  • as perfectly round as you can find
  • firm with no soft spots

apples and homemade caramel

dipping apple into caramel

Let’s talk tools. We need the same items used for pumpkin spice toffee. In fact, most candy recipes require the same exact tools. And did you know that most homemade candy is gluten free? You don’t need flour to make caramel, toffee, truffles, or fudge.

Tools You Need for Caramel Apples

  1. Candy Thermometer: This tool literally makes the entire caramel cooking process EASY FOR YOU because there’s no mistaking temperature. I highly recommend a digital candy thermometer that clips onto your pot like this one or this one. If calibrated, a candy thermometer is 1000x more accurate than using your eyes to detect candy’s doneness. See My Favorite Candy Making Tools for how/why to calibrate.
  2. Heavy bottomed saucepan: I’ve ruined many batches of caramel because of a cheap pan. The ideal place for cooking candy is a deep and thick saucepan with straight sides. Thin pans, which often have hot spots, do not withstand the heat required for these recipes. These days I have a few pans I use for making toffee: herehere, and here. The Cooks Standard is a great option for beginners, while the All-Clad and copper pot are ideal for controlling the temperature of your candy.
  3. Wooden spoon: Wood has a high heat tolerance. It also doesn’t conduct heat, so it won’t suck heat out from the cooking candy which causes crystallization. I just bought this set and LOVE them. (Crystallization is the formation of lumpy, grainy sugar crystals in otherwise smooth cooking candy.)
  4. Pastry brush: pastry brush helps rid the saucepan of sugar syrup that may have splashed up around the sides. This syrup could burn and crystallize, ruining your batch of caramel. Wet it with water and wipe the sides of the pan clean. It’s ok if some water drips down into the cooking candy.
  5. Wooden Sticks: Sticks make eating caramel apples convenient and fun, while also serving as a useful dipping tool. Some small lollipop and popsicle sticks are simply too short– I recommend sticks anywhere between 5.5 – 7 inches. I like these wooden sticks because they’re sturdy and also double as skewers for meat & veggies.

homemade caramel apples

Caramel Apple Garnishes

The caramel apples are obviously fantastic plain, but it’s fun to play dress up every now and then. Immediately after coating in caramel and before the caramel sets, roll the caramel dipped apples in finely chopped nuts, toffee pieces, mini M&Ms, sprinkles, or coconut. You can even drizzle with melted chocolate and top with sprinkles, as shown below.

Used these sprinkles!

caramel apples with sprinkles

Print
caramel apples

Homemade Caramel Apples

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Yield: 8-9 caramel apples
  • Category: Candy
  • Method: Cooking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Learn how to make real homemade caramel apples with this from-scratch recipe. For best success, watch the video tutorial, read the post, and review the recipe before beginning.


Ingredients

  • 89 cold apples
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (420ml) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (240ml) light corn syrup
  • 2 cups (400g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons; 60g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Prep the apples: Rinse the apples with water, then wipe completely dry. Removing the slippery waxy coating will help the caramel seal to the apple. Remove the apple stem and insert a caramel apple stick about 3/4 down into the apple.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with a silicone baking mat (preferred) or grease the pan with butter. Caramel usually sticks to parchment or wax paper.
  3. Make the caramel: Combine the heavy cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, and salt in a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat. Do not turn the temperature up or down– keep at medium the entire time the caramel cooks. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the butter is melted. Once melted, brush down the sides of the pan with a water-moistened pastry brush and attach a candy thermometer to the pan, making sure the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan (as you’ll get an inaccurate reading).
  4. Without stirring, let the mixture cook and bubble until it reaches 235°F (113°C). Some readers have been cooking to 240°F (116°C) and saying the caramel sticks much better to the apples that way. Stick with anywhere between 235°F – 240°F. Reaching this temperature should take about 15 – 20 minutes, though don’t use time as your guide because it depends on your stove. Don’t be alarmed if your caramel is taking longer, just use the candy thermometer as your guide. The temperature will heat up slowly, then move quickly, so keep your eye on the pot. Once at 235°F – 240°F, remove caramel from heat and stir in the vanilla. Avoid over-stirring which can create air bubbles in the caramel (and then on the apple). Allow caramel to cool for 10-15 minutes until slightly thickened. If caramel is too thin to coat apples, let it cool and thicken for 5-10 minutes longer.
  5. Dip the apples: Holding the caramel apple stick, dip the apple into the warm caramel, tilting the pot as needed to coat all sides of the apple. Lift the apple up and swirl it around or gently tap it against the side of the pot to let excess caramel drip off. Place coated apple on prepared pan. Repeat with remaining apples. Enjoy immediately or allow caramel to set, about 45-60 minutes. If you want to wrap the caramel apples in cellophane treat bags for travel/gifting, wait until the caramel has completely set.
  6. If desired, you can add toppings. Immediately after coating in caramel and before the caramel sets, roll the caramel dipped apples in finely chopped nuts, toffee pieces, mini M&Ms, sprinkles, or coconut. You can even drizzle with melted chocolate or white chocolate, too.
  7. For displaying or serving, I recommend placing on wax paper or another nonstick surface. Even when the caramel has completely set, caramel apples may slightly stick to a serving dish. To eat a caramel apple, you can bite right into it or sit it upright on a cutting board and cut slices around the stick. (Or pull out the stick and slice.) These are great for sharing!
  8. Loosely cover and store the leftover dipped apples in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Notes

  1. How to clean a sticky saucepan: It’s not always easy or fun, but I have a helpful solution! When you’re finished making sticky caramel, simply fill the dirty saucepan with water until the water covers all of the candy residue. Place the saucepan on the stove over low heat. Let the warm water simmer and melt the sugar off the sides of the pan. Pour out the warm water, then let the tools sit until cool enough to handle. Rinse clean.
  2. Special Tools: Heavy Duty 3 Quart Pot, Candy Thermometer (I suggest this one or this one), Wooden Spoon, Pastry Brush, Silicone Baking Mat, Caramel Apple Sticks
  3. Caramel Candies: Follow step 3 in this recipe. Then without stirring, cook the mixture until it reaches 245°F (118°C). Immediately remove from heat, then stir in the vanilla. Then follow steps 5 and 6 in my soft sea salt vanilla caramels recipe.
  4. Double Batch: I don’t recommend halving, doubling, or tripling candy recipes, especially this caramel. Increasing or decreasing the quantity may work for baking, but the extra or decreased volume could prevent the candy from cooking properly. Make separate batches instead.

Keywords: apples, caramel

197 Comments

  1. These turned out great! The instructions were spot on. My 12 year old daughter made them with minimal supervision. The caramel is delicious and the apples are gorgeous! Thanks!

    1. I’m so happy these were a hit! What a fun recipe for your daughter to accomplish on her own 🙂 Thanks for participating this month!

    1. Hi Danielle! A small 3 quart dutch oven would be fine for this caramel. A larger dutch oven won’t cook the caramel evenly.

  2. Sally,

    This recipe is so easy and so delicious! I have always wanted to make caramel apples and was so excited that this was the baking challenge this month! I added toppings to mine but next time I am just going to dip them! I found the toppings I chose were a little too heavy for the caramel.

  3. So happy to find your recipe. A question, can this be made ahead and then reheated? I am a bit nervous and would like to have it done before my daughters party. What do you think? Thank you!

  4. Thanks for sharing! We really would like to dip these in white chocolate then decorate. Similar to the ones we love from Disneyland. Do you think that would workout with this recipe; if we let the the Carmel completely set them dip them into white chocolate?

  5. Love this recipe! The apples were so delicious and the homemade caramel is definitely so much better than any store bought one. Thank you Sally, for another great challenge recipe. 🙂

    1. Hi Jen! You can find the ingredients in the recipe portion of this blog post. You can easily find it by clicking the “jump to recipe” button at the top of this post!

  6. These were delicious!! I waiting until the caramel heated to 240 on my first batch and 235on my second. The first batch had a thicker caramel coating but the second was easier to work with – I think the sweet spot is right in the middle! They were the perfect treat for pumpkin carving – thanks as always for the yummy recipes!!

  7. These were the best caramel apples I’ve ever had, hands down!! I used fresh Cortland apples from a local orchard. I will be making these again next fall!

    1. Love reading this, Beccah! Thank you so much for participating this month and I’m happy that you’ll be making these again 🙂

  8. These are the best caramel apples ever, my mom and dad absolutely loved them, plus I ate a lot of them too because I topped them with cashews and they were gone within 1 day! Thank you Sally

    1. I’m thrilled your family enjoyed these caramel apples, Chloe! Thanks for participating in October’s baking challenge 🙂

  9. Delicious caramel! Had to have some patience with getting the temp right but it all went very well.

  10. These are delicious, Sally! The caramel is so thick and creamy! My boys and I made them and they worked out very well – though the first ones we dipped looked better than the ones at the end. Thanks for all the fabulous recipes!

  11. Yummy caramel! I ended up with quite a bit left, so I’ll get to use it for lots of other desserts soon. Yay!

    I do wish I had waited for the caramel to get to 240° rather than 235°, as it didn’t stick very well. But it was delicious either way

  12. Not sure what I did wrong, but mine didn’t turn out very well and wouldn’t stick to the apple. The caramel itself didn’t taste too bad, but I was disappointed in myself cause they didn’t stick. But it was fun making it with my 7 yr old grandson and he made a monster out of his, lol. I will attempt to make again and hopefully they will turn out better.

    1. I’m so sorry you had trouble with the caramel not sticking- next time wait for it to thicken a little bit more, that should help 🙂 Such a fun recipe to make with your grandson!

  13. These were so good! I was terrified at the thought of making my own caramel, but it turned out deliciously perfect! Thank you for making an amazing yet simple recipe!

  14. I’m gonna give this 5 stars even though my caramel did not stick to my “waxy” apples. I think apples straight from the orchard would have been perfect! The caramel was delicious. We dipped instead since it wouldn’t stick. Next time I will try fresh picked apples and cooking a tad longer as has been suggested here. Thank you!

  15. Fabulous recipe, as always! I let the caramel cool until it was a little bit on the thicker side, and dipped each apple twice. Before starting, I dipped each apple in boiling water and washed thoroughly to remove any wax residue, dried them thoroughly with a soft kitchen towel, and placed in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This seemed to help my caramel stay on the apples!

  16. I heated the caramel for as long as I could but it kept nearly boiling over the pan. (I used a 3 quart pan) It ended up being really thin so I let it sit out for about 1 hour or so. It only thickened a little and that still wasn’t enough to keep it on the apples. I slid right off in a puddle even though I washed and dried the apples well. I didn’t want to waste the caramel so I cut up the apples into slices and used the caramel as a dip. It tasted really good and I enjoyed them. I still had caramel left over so I stored the rest in the fridge. I was also hoping it would thicken in there but it didn’t. Is there something I can do to thicken it and get it to stick on the apples? If I were to ever use this recipe again it would be as a dip for apple slices instead!

    1. Hi Zoe! I’m so glad you made the best of the recipe by using it as a dip. Yum! Did you use a candy thermometer? At 235 – 240F, the caramel will be thick enough to cling to the apple. If so– and if you decide to try the apples again– make sure that your thermometer is calibrated. Oftentimes candy thermometers can give false readings, so calibrating is essential. See my post above for instructions if you’re interested.

  17. Hey Sally! I am about to make these for my son’s class’ Halloween party on Thursday and just wondered if I can use golden corn syrup in place of the light corn syrup. I have a bottle of light corn syrup, but in order to cover all the apples for each child in the class, I’ll need more.

      1. It actually says corn syrup on the bottle. I didn’t even realise that there was such a thing as light corn syrup until a couple of days ago…I live in Canada and light corn syrup seems to not be so popular here.

  18. We made these for our weekly monday family night and my kids loved it! They loaded (and i mean loaded) with every sprinkle variety we own. They had a blast and loved eating them. I cooked the caramel to 240 and let it sit and thicken (it was perfect consistency) but i think my apples were too waxy or not cold enough as the caramel eventually all slid off the apples. But it was delicious to dip in and now i have some extra caramel to use for other recipes 🙂

  19. Caramel tastes wonderful! The only drawback was that I had to take mine to 250F for it to set up at all. Might be due to living in a humid climate, not sure, but 240F certainly wasn’t enough for me. So now I have a batch of caramel sauce and a batch of caramel apples!

  20. I was a little unsure about this challenge because I’m not great at candy but they came out beautifully. I checked my candy thermometer before hand and it was reading low so I’m glad I checked and was able to adjust accordingly. The caramel was a perfect consistency and very delicious! Thank you for a great recipe!

  21. I made these today with Pixie Crunch apples from my local orchard. I coated some in toffee bits and left the rest plain caramel. They were delicious!!

  22. Your recipe made it so easy for our Caramel Party we had last week! We dipped apples and pretzels using your tips and tricks. Thank you so much for the insightful info!

  23. I just decided yesterday that I would give these a try, and so glad I did! Based on your note of some people’s reviews, I let the candy cook to about 138 degrees. Unfortunately, I allowed it to cool a bit too long before dipping, so the caramel was pretty thick by then and a little more difficult to dip, BUT they still look amazing and I can’t wait to dig in. Added some swirls of melted chocolate and chopped toasted pecans! I have never made any of your caramel recipes before, and I have to add my 2 thumbs up! It is delicious!

  24. Super easy to make, but definitely need to go closer to the 240° temp. I didn’t and my caramel kept slowly oooozing down, but we didn’t care because the caramel was AMAZING!

    Also cut the caramel apples into slices and scooped NY cheese cake with them. Yeah I was in heaven!

  25. Be warned this doubles in size while cooking. Mine nearly boiled over in a 3qt pot, and turning down the heat meant it wouldn’t get up to the needed 235/240. I moved it to a much larger 6qt pot and it worked perfectly (although I had to move it back to the original 3qt one for dipping, it was too shallow in the large one). Any suggestions for not dirtying every pot in the house?

    1. Hi Cari, I’m wondering if you did have your heat up just a little too high. Be sure to keep it at medium (even thought it might take a little longer to reach 235). You can see in the video that I’m using a 3 quart pot and it’s not close to boiling over. I’m glad you were able to save yours in the larger pot and that it turned out well in the end!

  26. This is my first time making caramel from scratch. I’m super tempted to call it a fail because my apples didn’t turn out completely beautiful but this dang caramel is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted in my entire life! I am so glad I found this recipe so I can start a new Halloween tradition with my kiddos.

    1. I’m so happy you were able to try something new this month! Way to go 🙂 Thanks for participating and I’m thrilled this will be a new tradition for your family!

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