I have always struggled with getting caramel apples right. I’ve solved that problem once and for all and want to share all of my tips and tricks with you for making perfect Black Caramel Apples for Halloween!
Last week, my friend Heidi gave me a slice of a Black Caramel Apple she purchased . It was shiny and beautiful and had a delicious licorice caramel flavor. I had never tasted anything like it and immediately started thinking about how I could duplicate Heidi’s amazing treat. But first…
I cannot tell you how many times over the course of my cooking days I have attempted making caramel apples and failed. Caramel + me = not a good combination. I’ve tried every recipe in the book. Microwave caramel, caramel made with cream, stir, no-stir, you name it, I’ve tried it. Somewhere in my photo archives I have a picture of me, sitting in our first kitchen holding a slab of hardened caramel up in the air (which looked like a sheet of toffee). I think it has to do with patience. I don’t have a lot when it comes to candy making, thus the multiple failed caramel experiments. Until NOW. Finally, I’ve found the solution.
I have a crush on Peter’s Caramel
I’ve been using Peter’s Caramel for several years and give my hearty endorsement of this product. It is by far the best caramel I’ve used in baking. It’s easy to use and never fails me. Peter’s Caramel takes the hassle out of using pre-made caramel for cooking. Once you unwrap the package, there are no pesky individual pieces of caramel to unwrap. It can be purchased in 5 lb blocks. Before you say 5 lbs is way too much caramel for one person, consider it keeps on the shelf in your pantry for a long, long time. I’ve used up portions that are a year old, and they taste like they were just purchased. The caramel melts like a charm, no stirring if you melt it in the oven! What else can I say, you can share a block with your mom if you like, but I think you’re going to want the whole block to yourself! I have posted several recipes on ABK using Peter’s Caramel: Caramel Covered Coconut Pretzel Cookies, Caramel Apple White Chocolate Cookies, Salted Caramel Apple Pie with Streusel Topping, Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Caramel Apple Crisp. Yes, it’s true. I have a little crush on Peter’s Caramel.
If you’ve struggled to make perfect caramel apples in the past, you’ve come to the right place, follow my tips for making Black Caramel Apples and you’ll be the talk of the neighborhood Halloween party! Of course, you can make this recipe without adding the black food coloring, or use another color if you wish.
10 tips for making perfect caramel apples
I had an in depth Q&A with Heather Smith of Orson Gygi in Salt Lake City. Heather is a fourth generation family owner/brand manager at the store. Gygi’s is one of my favorite places to wander and gather all types of kitchen and cooking supplies. I’ve been shopping there since my mother in law first took me there in the early 80’s. Heather assists and teaches cooking classes in store and also appears regularly on local TV cooking features. She recently did a segment on Black Caramel Apples and gave me several of her tips I’ve included below…
I highly recommend Granny Smith apples. They are the perfect contrast to the sweet caramel and are crunchy and easy to find in most grocery stores. Make sure when you pick the apples they are without bruises or cuts, this will help to keep your caramel apples fresh as long as possible! Also, look at the apple in your hand, try to pick apples that have stems that are in the middle of the apple, so when the stick is inserted it will appear to be straight up and down. If you pick apples that are not quite symmetrical or the stem is a little off center, set the apple on the counter and push the stick into the apple at a straight vertical position to insure your sticks are all aligned. Not a huge deal, but if you like things to be lined up, this is the way to go!
Keep it cool
Refrigerate the apples if possible before coating in caramel. The apple will be thoroughly cool and the caramel will adhere better to the apple. Also, immediately after coating the apple with caramel, place in the refrigerator for about 15-30 minutes. Refrigeration of the dipped apple will help the caramel set up on the apple. Important tip: For best results after dipping apples, store in refrigerator. I remove the apples shortly before serving. If the apples are to be gifted, set the apple on a small square of parchment paper and place in a small cello bag. I do not tie the top of the bag off. Leave the bag open so the apple can breathe and moisture does not form inside of the bag, which will cause the caramel to “sweat” off of the apples. Do not place the apple in the bag until ready to deliver to recipient. It is better to give the apples on a plate if possible instead of bagging to insure the caramel will stay put on the apple!
Give a good scrub
I believe this is one of the most important steps in insuring your caramel sticks to the apple! Apples are coated with a wax to give a shiny appearance. Wax and caramel do not coexist in happiness. You must remove all of the wax in order for the caramel to stick to the apple. Give the apples a good scrub before coating with caramel. Many sources suggest dipping the apples in a bowl of hot water to remove any film on the apple, but using a little scrubber, such as a green scrub on the opposite side of a clean sponge (pictured) or another type of clean scrubber will work. I’ve also heard that using a light sand paper will also work after cleaning the apple, but haven’t tried it yet, I’ll update this when I give it a try! ** update, I tried using sand paper, and then rinsing it off. Using light sand paper completely removed the waxy coating. For the record, I used a “light” 220 Grit sandpaper.
Dry dry dry
Completely dry the apple after washing and scrubbing and remove the stem. I like to set the apples upside down on a paper towel after drying, this helps all of the water that may be caught in the stem to drain out. Take a corner of a dry paper towel and press into the stem to completely remove any moisture.
If you use the oven to melt the caramel, you won’t have to stay close to the stove and stir, or worry about scorching the caramel! I put the caramel in a large heavy pan, such as a Le Creuset pan and let it sit, covered for 2 hours. When it is melted, give it a gentle stir, not too much, or air bubbles will form. The caramel will probably melt in less than two hours, but Heather gave me the 2 hour recommendation, so that’s the timeline I use. You may melt caramel in the microwave. I do not recommend using the microwave for large amounts of caramel due to uneven melting.
I’ve read about using everything from a plastic fork (bad idea) to popsicle sticks to craft or wood skewers. I use this stick which is sturdy and perfect for making caramel apples. You want a stick that is sturdy enough to support the weight of the apple when coating with caramel, and also will withstand the force of biting into the apple.
Make sure to have parchment paper available after the apples are dipped. I also like to use a light coating of cooking spray on the parchment to make sure the apples don’t stick to the paper. Wax paper is not a good surface, the wax tends to melt onto the warm caramel.
Coloring and flavoring
If coloring the caramel, add food coloring after the caramel has been removed from oven. Black is a difficult color to achieve in a dark shade. I used Super Black Softgel food coloring. You may also use other colors, we think black is fun for Halloween! The black dries very shiny which also adds to the festive nature of the dipped apples. If you want to flavor the caramel, this Anise flavoring works well. Just a little will give the caramel a nice licorice flavor! It sounds weird, but the caramel and licorice flavors go together well and are a perfect combination with the black color of the apples. For children, I recommend plain caramel, for adults, the anise flavoring is a fun and unexpected change from the usual! A little flavoring goes a long way, so use sparingly and taste as you go.
Technique is everything
After heating and gently stirring the caramel, take an apple that has a stick or skewer inserted in the center and place the apple into the pan. Use a large wood spoon or silicone spatula and spoon the caramel over the apple, like you are painting the apple with caramel, until the apple is completely coated with caramel. Use the spoon to gently scrape off excess caramel off of the bottom of the apple. Turn the apple so the stick is under the apple and the apple is up in the air. This will help the caramel to flow to the top of the apple before setting the apple on parchment. Place the apple on the sprayed parchment and apply any decorations to the warm caramel while still soft.
Be a good Scout
Like a good scout, always be prepared. It is always best to gather and set out all ingredients before starting any recipe. When making anything that deals with candy (caramel) making sure you have everything required before beginning is highly recommended. Set the decorations in bowls, place the sticks in one place, food coloring and flavoring, parchment and cooking spray out, and clean the surface for placing pan that will hold the apples after dipped, etc. You will be grateful you took the time to set everything out in advance! All of the items for decorating I purchased (below) are from Gygi’s. They sell rock candy on sticks, which I crushed with a large end of a knife on a cutting board while in the sacks.
I hope you and your family enjoy making Black Caramel Apples. Leave a note and let us know your tips for making caramel apples!
Black Caramel Apples
Yield 18-20 caramel apples
Unwrap Peter's Caramel and cut into large chunks. Place in a large, heavy oven-proof pan with a lid.
Turn oven to 200 degrees and place the oven rack in the center of oven. Place the pan of caramel in the oven with lid on pan. Set timer for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, wash the apples thoroughly. Using a clean scrubber, wash the skin of the apples. you may use a light sand paper to remove the wax from the apple peel as well, or dip the apples in hot water to remove the wax. When the apple is ready, the skin of the apple should not be shiny and all wax removed. Completely dry the apple. Set the apples in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Set out all ingredients for decorating caramel apples.
About ten minutes before caramel is removed from oven, insert the apples with sticks and dry any of the juice around the stem with a paper towel or cloth.
When the caramel is melted, remove from oven and set on stove or counter with a hot pad underneath pan.
Squirt some of the gel food coloring into the melted caramel. I use about one teaspoon per 5 lb block of caramel. If using flavoring, add flavoring at this time as well, or dip part of the apples without flavoring and add flavoring later. Gently stir the caramel to make sure all of the coloring and flavoring are incorporated. Do not stir vigorously or air bubbles will appear.
Using a large spoon, take apples and spoon caramel over apple until the apple is completely coated, scrape any excess caramel off the bottom of the apple to prevent a pool of caramel collecting while setting up. Turn the apple upside down so the apple is up and the stick side is down. This will help the caramel to set up on the top side of the apple.
Place the apple on the lightly greased parchment paper. Decorate the apple if desired. Decorations must be applied before caramel completely sets up. If dipping caramels alone, quickly decorate after dipping each apple.
When the apples have all been coated with caramel, place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to set caramel.
Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
This recipe is easily halved, or quartered or the apples may be dipped one or two in a batch. Adjust the amount of caramel you melt accordingly.
5 lbs Peter's Caramel
18-20 medium Granny Smith apples
food coloring, (optional) see article notes
flavoring, (optional) see article notes
sticks for apples, see article notes
decorations (colored sugar, sprinkles, rock candy, royal icing eyes, gunny worms, etc)