Last weekend the little bro came over for caramel apple making and a Halloween movie marathon. The little bro is an 11 year-old and because he has the appropriate attention span of one, this baking/movie party quickly became a frenzied solo caramel apple fiasco to the soundtrack of Halloween. If I had been by myself initially, I might have done a recipe from scratch with various toppings and much more attention to detail but I figured elementary schoolers need shortcuts. Apparently shortcuts mean watch-and-eat-but-don't-lift-a-finger-then-complain-that-I'm-doing-it-wrong. Hrmph. Kids.
I attempted the simplest, easiest process I could think of: buy some Granny Smith apples and popsicle sticks, melt some caramel in a bowl and dip the apples. How hard is that to mess up? Not very hard. I had a few issues. Isn't it annoying when you succeed with flying colors at complex things and then fail absurdly with the most basic ones?
I thought solely melting packaged caramel pieces would be such cheating that I looked up a couple recipes and decided to add a teaspoon or two of milk (boy, all that cheating guilt is gone now). I guess it can be water too but milk sounded best for texture and taste. And I was right in terms of taste but the consistency was just impossible. The toppings were not having it.
The caramel should be heated by stove or microwave until as hot as possible, without burning. This will mostly likely be molten-lava hot but it is optimal for the toppings to stick and stay. Be very careful when handling, especially if there are children around.
Dip the apples into the hot caramel and then roll into or sprinkle with toppings of choice. The tricky part is, you need to do non-chocolate toppings right away but wait for the caramel to cool a bit with chocolate ones or they'll melt right off. Nuts, gummy candy, or sprinkles work fine but chocolate or chocolate chips should be added after the caramel has cooled slightly.
I personally love chocolate-dipped caramel apples but kids tend to go for the massively-covered, brightly-colored ones. M&Ms or gummy bears are always a hit. Now that I think about it, the best caramel apple I ever had was with white chocolate and crumbled Oreos. And I don't even like white chocolate. The combo of flavors just works magic.
If you can get the M&Ms to stick and stay, without sliding or cracking, you're a genius. I think even after dipping and rolling, you still have to manually place some. This batch was done entirely willy-nilly but at least they didn't melt or crack. And I'd only attempt biting into one of these apples after slicing. Those suckers are brutal.
If you want the chocolate layer outside the caramel to be smooth—perhaps for additional toppings on top of that coating—it has to be very melted (but not burned) as well. I'd also use a deep bowl for dipping that allows coverage of the whole apple on the first try. My mistake was hot-ish chocolate and a shallow bowl, which I had to make up for by rolling and patting with a spoon.
I was a bit annoyed with the finished result but they still tasted great. I'm wondering if I should have added that milk at all—next time a perfect consistency will be my aim. Nevertheless, all taste-testers, young and old, approved. Caramel apples are such a big part of Halloween festivities every year—the process as much as the outcome—that you can't really go wrong.