Candied apples are one of those classic Halloween treats that looks better than it tastes. The candy coating on a candied apple is usually a thick, bright red candy shell that doesn’t add much in the way of flavor to your apple (though some are heavily seasoned with hot cinnamon spice) and proves difficult to bite through. This season, I wanted to make candy apples that were easier and more delicious, turning them from a Halloween decoration into a Halloween treat that is worth eating.
These candy apples are easy to make and require no corn syrup, no food coloring and no extra flavors. Corn syrup is a staple for most candied apples because it helps prevent the sugar from crystallizing as it cooks, keeping it glossy and silky smooth. You can also prevent crystallization by adding an acid like cream of tartar to your sugar before starting to cook it. It works well and dissolves in the sugar to produce a clear caramel in the end. Speaking of caramel, I love the look of a red candy apple, but opted to leave out the coloring in this batch because I wanted to see the color of the caramel I was working with more clearly. While most candied apple recipes aim for a colorless caramel, mine does not. I wanted to cook the sugar until it got a little bit of color and took on a rich caramel flavor.
In the end, my apples taste not like plain candied apples, but like caramel apples because the “candy” coating has been caramelized to a deep amber color that delivers lots of wonderful flavor. The coating is relatively thin, making it easy to bite through and slice through, so you can eat the apples without difficulty. The candy still adds a nice crunch to contrast with the fresh fruit, but the sweet caramel flavor that it brings is what makes these treats well worth eating. That being said, the red does add a fantastic look to candied apples and you can absolutely stir in red food coloring (I like gel coloring, for an intense color) right before dipping your apples, which will give you color and flavor!
The number of apples you’ll get out of a batch will vary depending on the size of your apples. I used medium sized apples for this batch and was able to make 7 apples before it got difficult to dip them (you’ll always loose a little caramel on the bottom of the pan). If you use smaller apples, which are great for a party, you’ll probably be able to get 8 or so. If you have jumbo apples, you’ll probably only get 4. You can double the recipe if you need to make more apples or, if working with that much sugar makes you nervous, just make two batches.
Easy Candied Caramel Apples (without Corn Syrup)
5-6 medium apples
6 popsicle/cake pop sticks
2 cups sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 cup water
1/2 tsp red gel food coloring (optional)
Clean your apples well and dry thoroughly. Place one stick at the center of the top of each apple and drive it down into the apple using a meat mallet, rolling pin or wine bottle. Do not drive the stick all the way through.
In a large saucepan, combine sugar and cream of tartar and whisk to combine. Stir in water.
Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Bring sugar to a boil and continue to cook until sugar reaches 300-310 F, the “hard crack” stage. Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, until the sugar takes on a golden amber color and begins to smell like caramel.
Remove from heat. IF using food coloring, stir it in at this point using a spatula. Allow sugar to stand for 1-2 minutes so that any bubbles can subside and the caramel thickens slightly.
Tilt the pan to the side to pool the caramel and dip apples into the hot caramel one by one, turning to coat evenly. Allow excess sugar to drip off into the pan, then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and allow caramel to harden before serving.
Makes 6 apples