Apparently I’ve developed a reputation in certain food circles for developing EXCEEDINGLY complicated recipes. Which both baffles and amuses me. I mean, on the one hand I get it, as I do have a habit of reaching for a wide variety of whole grain flours (my gluten free ombre cake has seven different flours, not to mention two or three different binders and two different types of cocoa powder). But I do that because I think that’s how you’ll get the best results possible. On the other hand, I DO occasionally make the simple recipe (come one people, my Wordless Recipe series is told with photos! PHOTOS people!). But at the end of the day I get that not everyone wants to track down crazy flours, insanely obscure sweeteners and ludicrous ingredients that can only be bought on the internet. Which is why I present to you the easiest, simplest, most basic recipe for how to make caramel apples ever. EVER. Believe me when I say that ANYONE can do this. These are easy caramel apples. And it does NOT involve pre-made store bought candies. It’s completely from scratch! (Jump directly to the recipe.)
The problem I’ve always had easy caramel apple recipes is they usually involve going to the grocery store and buying bags of caramel chew candies. I get the temptation. You don’t have to worry about cooking sugar on the stove, something that I know scares the heck out of most people. The fear of burning the sugar (or worse, burn yourself) is a huge leap to make. Plus when you have those candies around, it’s kind of fun to pop one in your mouth as you unwrap them for the caramel apples. One for the bowl, one for you. Everyone’s happy!
But here’s the thing. Turn the bag over and look at the ingredients list which includes strange things like partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, calcium carbonate, lipolyzed butter fat and the nebulous vague “artificial flavor”. Really now. Do you want to be feeding your kids that? But even worse than what’s in the caramels is what’s on the outside. Yep, I’m talking those REALLY annoying plastic wrappers. How many times have you had to pry those suckers open, as they stick the caramel, only to have it tear and find that there’s that annoying piece of plastic stuck to the candy that you can’t remove? Not to mention how my fingers cramp when I’m unwrapping more than two at a time. Do you really want to go through that AGAIN?
Thankfully I got your back. Making caramels for dipping apples is easy when you have a microwave and a microwave safe mixing bowl. You probably even have most of the ingredients in your cupboard, which means you don’t have to make that special trip do the store just to make caramel apples. Spontaneous caramel apples without the finger cramping – now that’s something to write about. Seriously folks. Go make these now.
Caramel Apple Recipe – The Easiest, Simplest, Basic Recipe, All Made from Scratch! (and naturally gluten free too!)
By Irvin Lin
The secret to making easy caramel apples is the microwave. Yep, you can make caramel sauce by microwaving sugar, water and a little corn syrup together. It’s painless and the microwave does all the work for you. One thing to note, don’t try this method with organic sugar. You have to use plain old regular refined white sugar. The impurities left in the organic sugar (and what makes it so beige) burns before the sugar can caramelize. But really, you’re making caramel apples. This isn’t quinoa people. Embrace them for what they are.
Microwave caramel technique adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
4 medium sized apples at room temperature
1 cup (200 g) white granulated sugar (see note above)
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
2 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 sticks (popsicle sticks, disposable chopsticks, thick skewers, or even clean dried twigs that you’ve scavenged from the ground because you saw how cool they looked in Matt Armendariz’ blog)
Optional toppings (use 1/4 cup per apple)
chopped dried cranberries
crushed mini pretzels or pretzel crisps crackers
chopped dark chocolate
crushed ruffle potato chips
1. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper, wax paper or silicon silpat. If your apples are super shiny they are probably coated in wax. Scour and clean them with hot water and a scrubby sponge to get the wax off. This will help the caramel stick. Dry and stab each apple with a stick of your choice (I went with disposable chopsticks – ‘cuz I’m Asian and I’m keepin’ it real). Place the toppings of your choice in separate bowls.
2. Place the sugar, corn syrup and water in a medium sized microwave safe bowl. Stir with a fork until all the sugar is wet and there are no dry spots. Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on high for 5 minutes. Pay attention to the bowl in the microwave starting around 45 seconds before it ends. Watch the sugar (it’ll be bubbling) and stop your microwave once the liquid sugar starts to brown. It took my microwave the entire 5 minutes for me to see browning, but some microwaves are more powerful than others. If you aren’t seeing browning, cook for an additional 30 seconds (paying really close attention to the sugar in the microwave until you see brown).
3. Once you see the sugar start to brown, take it out of the microwave (carefully) and put it on the counter. Swirl the sugar around in the bowl, and watch it magically start to darken. Keep swirling the sugar (don’t mix it with a fork or anything, just pick up the bowl with a hot pad or mitten and swirl the liquid around a bit so it darkens evenly). Once the sugar darkens to a deep chestnut brown (similar to a dark rum or a nice barrel-aged bourbon) add the butter and stir it in carefully. The caramel will steam up. Once the butter has melted add the heavy cream and salt, stirring carefully (as it will also steam up). Continue to stir for two or three minutes, until the caramel has cooled a bit and thickened slightly. To test if the caramel is ready, dip a spoon into the caramel and lift it up. If the caramel coats the back of the spoon without sliding off completely the caramel is ready.
4. Take the first apple and dip it in the caramel. You might have to roll it around a bit and tip the bowl to cover as much of the apple as you want. As you pull the apple out of the bowl, scrape excess caramel off the bottom of the apple with a fork. Dip the bottom of the caramel apple in whatever optional topping you want. Set on the lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining apples. If the caramel starts to harden by the time you get to the fourth one, place the bowl back in the microwave for 15-30 seconds. If you want to make more apples, don’t double this recipe but just make another batch of caramel with a clean bowl. The caramel cools fast enough that dipping eight apples is tough to do.
Makes 4 caramel apples.
If you like this caramel apple recipe, check out these apple recipes from around the web:
Salted Apple Caramel Hand Pies
Apple Pie Pull Apart Bread
Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Caramel Apple Soft Pretzels
Caramel Apple Scones
Mallory @ Total Noms says
This is embarrassing, but I’ve NEVER had a caramel apple. I love making caramel sauce from scratch though- and this recipe looks divine! Talk about easy!!
Whaaattt??!? Never had a caramel apple? That’s crazy talk! Go make one now. They literally take 10 minutes. 15 minutes top with this recipe!
Lauren at Keep It Sweet says
I had no idea you could make caramel from scratch in the microwave, so genius! Oh, and I agree with you on those caramels, they are a huge pain in the butt. Also, they don’t even taste a fraction as good as the real thing.
It’s true! I used to love those caramel candies as a kid but I had one recently and I was all “Why does this taste so artificial?” Its as if I could taste the chemicals in the candies! Apparently my taste buds have shifted a lot since childhood. That or they’ve changed the candies so much from back when I was trick-or-treating.
Ruthy @ Omeletta says
LOL I love this- don’t feel bad about your crazy complicated recipes, Irvin, and take faith in the fact that it makes them that more difficult to plagiarize!
And on the other hand, a good, simple, tooth-achingly yum caramel apple recipe- there is nothing wrong with that, either. 🙂
The Suzzzz says
Sheesh, know I feel like an idiot for making caramel on the stovetop for my apples.
PS – have you ever tried rolling them in chopped up chocolate-covered cheetohs? Bizarre and good all at the same time and it looks awesome for Halloween.
I still make caramel on the stovetop but this microwave method is SO darn easy to do. And I’m both intrigued and slightly grossed out by the idea of chocolate cover Cheetos. But I can imagine they would look super Halloween cool!
Belinda @zomppa says
My issue with these is that I want to just eat and eat and eat them!
Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) says
I’ve been looking for an easy caramel apple recipe – I just got given 100 apples from a friend’s tree and I was thinking this might be fun for my students on Hallowe’en. This recipe (with a lot of adult supervision) might just be the thing. You make it looks so easy!
As long as you pay attention to the sugar and are careful about adding/mixing the butter and cream, the microwave method is way safer than the stovetop version. No real splattering of the caramel or super hot metal pans to worry about. But yes, you should definitely be careful regardless. Caramelized sugar is hot regardless of how you make it!
Jane Bonacci says
Brilliant Irvin. Simple, easy, healthy … exactly what we all strive for! Bravo!!
Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) says
Oh no absolutely – I am always super cautious and I’ll probably have to try this myself (oh the pain of it!) beforehand to see if I think it will be ok. Regardless of whether I use it with the kids, this s a great recipe and the photos are beautiful – thanks!
Just adore this post! With gentle diplomacy and a tempting recipe you have traveled the thorn strewn path of explaining why cooking “from scratch” is a better choice!
I’m definitely an advocate for cooking “from scratch” but I get the convenience factor – and have certainly resorted to pre-made/semi-made myself once in a while.
BUT when the from scratch is actually EASIER and FASTER than the pre-made/semi-made (unwrapping those caramels is SO time consuming) than I definitely think it’s the better choice!
These look amazing! I’ve never been a big fan of caramel apples but my kids love them! Thanks for breaking it down for us 🙂
I have to type and write rather than speak-mouth full of caramel apple!!! The BEST!!!
These look so great! I am planning to make them tomorrow evening for a work meeting on Thurs. morning. Will they be OK stored at room temp for 12 hours or so, or should I refrigerate them until it’s time for me to leave for work?
Thanks for this recipe! I love making caramel, but have never tried it in the microwave!
They should keep overnight without a problem at room temperature, just use fresh apples. The biggest issue with them is humidity though. The most moisture in the air, the more the caramel will suck it up (it’s hygroscopic) and then start to melt. I left my apples out for a few few days and the caramel just slid off the apples (it took a few days to do that though, so overnight shouldn’t be an issue).
If you use less fresh apples though (and are concerned about them spoiling) or you have an ant problem, you can buy some cellophane and use that to cover the apples. Cut the cellophane into squares, place the apples in the middle of the square and wrap the apple , tying the cellophane to the stick above the apple. Don’t do this with plastic wrap though, as it’ll stick to the caramel. Or just store them in the fridge overnight.
However, if you DO store them in the fridge, make sure to bring the apples to room temperature. The caramel gets REALLY hard when it’s cold!
Thanks for your reply! I will post a pic on Instagram and tag you in the comments once they are done. I picked up apples at the Castro farmer’s market this evening–so excited!
Thanks for the recipe and for your storage advice!
Arthur in the Garden! says
My favourite Fall/State Fair food!
I wish San Francisco had a Fall Stage Fair!
[email protected] is How I Cook says
Now I have to think of some kids to make them for. Oh. Never mind. There is a kid in all of us!
Shikha @ Shikha la mode says
I’ve never made caramel in the microwave – does it save any time?
Yes. It not only saves time but it’s safer and easier to do than the stovetop method! You just put the ingredients in a large microwave safe bowl, turn it on, and watch it. Once it starts to brown (caramelize) you pull it out of the microwave, watch it darken and when it reaches the right color, add the butter and cream. Super easy!
Hi! This looks amazing going to try it today, but can I use milk instead of cream? 🙂
I don’t know. I’ve never used milk for this method, but it might work. You might want to increase the butter to 3 tablespoons instead of just 2 though, as the milk is thinner than cream. But try it and let me know how it turns out!
Mary Flans says
Fixing to try this recipe! Maybe I overlooked it, but is there salt in it or no? I saw it on the ingredients list, but I do not see in the instructions where to add it. Thanks!
Whoops! You add it with the cream. I edited the recipe above. Sorry about that!
my sugar is not turning brown 🙁
How long did you put it in the microwave? All microwaves have different powers so yo might need to cook it longer in there.
Hisham Assaad says
I always make caramel at home and I recently posted a recipe that I tried and loved.
I have been trying to make candy apple and I was looking for a good caramel apple recipe. The thing is, I’m trying to stay away from corn syrup. For the candy apples, it worked with adding some lemon juice or vinegar (still have to test with cream of tartar although it’s not very known here in Lebanon) and they melted in a couple of days when left on the counter. I read it in the comments that it sucks humidity and melts off the apples. I’m not sure about the texture, but should the candy still be sticky? or does it get as hard as glass?
Another thing, is there a way to skip the corn syrup is this recipe?
Maya from Australia says
Made this last night, excellent result! Thanks!! One batch was enough for 8 small apples. My old microwave needed almost double the cooking time. Will make again!