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Lessons learned making caramel apples

Last week I had fun making caramel apples for my weekend DIY feature. This surprised me, as I’ve never enjoyed eating a caramel apple.

I find myself wanting to share behind the scenes details and personal opinions which didn’t fit into the project instructions.

Caramel apples always look so good, but whenever I’ve tried one I’ve always been disappointed — the coatings aren’t that exciting and the apples tend not to be crisp and tart, which is my favorite type of apple.

When my daughter asked for a caramel apple at the Arthurdale Fall Festival, I almost said no, assuming she also wouldn’t like it. But I caved and got her one. She loved it and shared it with her grandmother who also loved it.

When my daughter asked for another, I suggested we try making some at home. I knew we’d have fun making them together and knew I wanted to document the process to share with Sunday readers.

We bought apples from the Teets in Eglon, including some tasty and tart crab apples. They were each just a few bites worth — the perfect-sized caramel apple for me.

As I started looking at recipes I found most called for corn syrup. These probably are less finicky and tricky than traditional caramel recipes which can take practice to get just right. But I’ve successfully made a caramel sauce recipe with ease, so I knew I wanted to try making caramel apples without corn syrup.

The first recipe I tried called for equal parts cream and sugar, plus some butter, salt and maple syrup. The instructions said to mix it all together, then bring it up to 245 degrees before dipping the apples. I did so, but the caramel remained pale and after dipping the first few apples the caramel crystallized as it coated the remaining fruit.

After trying some other recipes, I have a theory on the problem with this first recipe — I believe I kept the temperature too low, since the instructions didn’t specify. I thought I should keep it low so I could cook it longer, thereby giving the sugar more time to caramelize.

When I looked at my go-to recipe for caramel sauce I saw that I turn the heat up after the sugar dissolves. If I make caramel apples again I would try the first recipe on a higher heat.

The recipe I presented in the do it yourself feature was similar to my sauce recipe, but called for more butter and less cream, which made sense as I needed it to set more firmly around the apples. I tried to dip when the caramel was too warm, and it slumped off. But as it cooled, it began to set well.

My caramel sauce is as follows: Melt 1 cup of sugar in 1/4 cup of water over medium heat. Once it starts to boil, stop stirring and turn the heat up. When the sugar turns a deep caramel color take it off the heat and whisk in 3/4 cup of cream (carefully — don’t get a steam burn!) then 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 teaspoon of salt and vanilla.

I do like the little caramel crab apples. The larger ones are okay, but still not my favorite way to eat apples. Since I ended up with quite a few failures from my experiments, I will make my dipping sauce and slice the failed experiment apples and add a scoop of caramel to each slice as I eat it.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email