How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (2022)

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How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (1)

Apples dipped in caramel are one of life’s sweetest treats. It’s simple, nostalgic, and tasty, too. Knowing how to make caramel is a key kitchen skill, a must-do, something that should most certainly be in your repertoire. Sugar, heat, and a little bit of time can do amazing things. I fully understand there are storebought apple dips and jars of caramel sauce — and there are some really great products available. I also know how incredible the homemade versions can be. Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip make great holiday gifts. Read on to learn how to make them.

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (2)

Kitchen Superstar

First of all, I am not even going to pretend this is “healthy.” The apple is healthy. Caramel is an indulgence — but well worth it. Once again, I prefer to think of things in big picture/little picture. Eat and enjoy in moderation and when you do eat something decadent — make certain it is GOOD!

Caramel is also a kitchen superstar. It’s a multi-faceted technique that can produce many different recipes and results. My grandparents (yes, both) made the old-timey caramel sauce for Southern-style multi-layer Caramel Cakes. Sometimes they would make pralines during the holidays studded with buttery pecans. The familiar grainy consistency was my benchmark. Later, I learned how to make caramel sauce when I was an apprentice with Nathalie Dupree. She was and still is a fiend for simple water or juice-based caramel sauce, served with thin glasslike slivers of orange. My introduction to caramel sauce made with rich butter and cream came in France apprenticing in patisserie at a Micheline one-star. I made liters upon liters every week. Later, my caramel knowledge expanded making perfectly shaped wax-bound confections for a Martha Stewart Christmas special.

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (3)

Can’t Take the Heat?

I can now make caramel in the blink of an eye. In the beginning, of course, I was nervous. We’re talking about 350°F sugar that will burn you. It is hot. But that’s pretty much it — and lots of things will burn you in the kitchen. It’s all just a matter of patience, planning, and practice. You can do it. The technique is the same for the sugar for all types of caramel. You start with “burning the sugar” or taking the sugar through the cooking stages. The changes in the consistency of the results come from what ingredients are added and their ratio.

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (4)

Sugar Stages

The process of becoming caramel is pure science. Unless you are going to make hard candy, there’s a lot you can skim over — but I want to share because I think it’s important to understand what is happening in the pot.

The final texture of candy depends on sugar concentration. As the syrup is boiling water evaporates, the sugar concentration increases, and the boiling point rises. A given temperature corresponds to a particular sugar concentration. The stage refers to the reaction of a spoonful of sugar syrup that has been drizzled into cold water.

Thread Stage – 230°F to 235°F

At this relatively low temperature, there is still a lot of water left in the syrup. When you drop a little of this syrup into cold water to cool, it forms a liquid thread that will not ball up, but simply dissolves in the water. Cooking sugar to this stage simply produces syrup, not candy.

Soft-Ball Stage – 232°F to 240°F

(Video) How to Make Caramel Apples

At this temperature, sugar syrup dropped into cold water will form a soft, flexible ball. Fudge, classic pralines, and fondant are made by cooking sugar to the soft-ball stage.

Firm-Ball Stage – 242°F to 250°F

Drizzle a little of this syrup in cold water and it will form a firm ball, that will retain it’s shape when you take it out of the water, but remains pliable and will flatten when squeezed between your fingers. Caramels are cooked to the firm-ball stage.

Hard-Ball Stage – 250°F to 268°F

At this stage, the syrup will form thick threads as it drips from the spoon. Very little water remains and the sugar concentration is rather high. The syrup drizzled into cold water will form a hard ball. If you take the ball out of the water, it won’t flatten, but you can still change its shape by squashing it. Nut brittles, nougat, marshmallows, and divinity are cooked to the hard-ball stage.

Soft-Crack Stage – 270°F to 290°F

As the syrup reached soft-crack stage, the bubbles on top will become smaller and closer together. When you drop a bit of this syrup into cold water, it will solidify into threads that, when removed from the water, are flexible, not brittle. They will bend slightly before cracking and breaking. Butterscotch is cooked to the soft-crack stage.

Hard-Crack Stage – 300°F to 310°F

The hard-crack stage is the highest temperature before caramel. If you spoon a little of the molten syrup in cold water and it will form hard, brittle threads that crack and break when bent. Toffee and lollipops are cooked to the hard-crack stage.

Caramel – 330° – 350° F

At the lower end of the temperature range of caramel all the water has boiled away and the pure sugar is liquid and light amber in color. As the temperature rises the sugar becomes richer and darker. Caramelized sugar is used for spun sugar and can also be used to give a candy coating to nuts. Above 350° caramel tastes burnt and bitter.

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (5)

Helpful Hints for Making Caramel

  • Have a metal bowl of cold water at the ready. You can use if to stop the cooking if your sugar starts to burn, simply tip the bottom of the pot in the cold water. You can also use it for clean up — and it’s ready if you happen to get a spatter.
  • Have a good thermometer, at least to start until you know your stages.
  • Go low and slow. There’s no reason to rush. Rushing can lead to burning.
  • Use a heavy-duty pot that’s less likely to have hot spots.
  • Don’t stir once the sugar has melted. Swirl the pot instead. If sugar crystals form they can turn your intended caramel into rock candy — and Southern-style caramel icing. In this instance, we don’t want crystals.
  • Just because you take the sugar off the heat doesn’t mean it stops cooking. You often need to pull it just before you think you should. This is where practice comes in.

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (6)

Apple Dip

If you take caramel sauce off the heat and remove it to a bowl it will firm as it starts to cool – and you have apple dip! I love to serve it with a bowl of chopped nuts, too. Caramel will set until firm or nearly firm in the refrigerator. All you have to do is zap it for a moment in the microwave.

We included Apple Dip as part of a fun video series I am creating with my dear friend Claire Perez to encourage people to #vote over on my Instagram. Check it out!

(Video) How to Make Fruit Crumble | Three Ways | Jamie Oliver

Wrap it Up

If giving for gifts, caramel sauce may simply be poured into clean and sterilized jars. Make a note to your recipient to store it in the refrigerator. One recipe makes 1 1/2 cups and can be doubled if you use a larger pot. I find that mini mason jars are a perfect size for a sweet present.

Thanks so much for reading. I hope you enjoy this recipe for real honest-to-goodness caramel sauce and apple dip. If you give it a try, let me know what you think! Stay safe — and if you haven’t already, make sure you vote!

Bon Appétit, Y’all

Virginia Willis

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (7)

How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (8)

Print Recipe

(Video) Southern Fried Apples Recipe ~ Just like grandma's!

Caramel Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups

Prep Time5 mins

Cook Time15 mins

Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ cup 1 stick unsalted butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean split and scraped, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
(Video) Apple Crisp Recipe - How To Make Apple Crisp

Instructions

  • In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice. Heat over low heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Continue to boil, without stirring, until it begins to turn golden around the edges.(It is important not to stir, or the syrup may crystallize).

  • I KNOW you are looking for a cook time. The cook time will depend on your stove strength and the type metal pot you are using. It wildly vary from cook to cook. Don't leave it. Don't go talk on the phone or start looking at Instagram. Stay with it. It should take about 8 to 20 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, combine the butter and cream in a small saucepan. Heat until the butter melts. Keep warm. When the syrup begins to color, lower the heat, and continue boiling to a deep golden color 335°F to 350°F. It will darken rapidly. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and cream. (Be very careful because the syrup will furiously bubble up in the pan.) Return the pan to the heat and stir until the caramel is completely dissolved. Add the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine.

  • Serve warm or at room temperature. Store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month; it will solidify. Reheat it over a double boiler or in a heavy saucepan over very low heat, adding a bit of warm water if it is too thick and not of sauce or pouring consistency.

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How to Make Homemade Caramel Sauce and Apple Dip - Virginia Willis (9)

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

FAQs

How do you keep the caramel from falling off the apple? ›

First, rinse and dry the apples. Apples have a waxy coating that will prevent the caramel from sticking, so it's important to wash and dry it off. Make sure the apples are cold, which helps prevent the caramel from slipping off. Pull out the apple's stem and insert a caramel apple stick.

How do you get caramel to stay on apples? ›

Chill the apples in the refrigerator for at least one day, if possible, before dipping. The cold apples will help the warm caramel stick more immediately onto the apples as you're dipping.

What is caramel dip made of? ›

Sugar, butter, and cream are the essence of making caramel, but I also add water, vanilla, and salt, which play important roles. What is this? Water helps the sugar dissolve, reduces the risk of burning, and heat more evenly. Salt turns caramel sauce into salted caramel, which is amazing.

What are the best apples to dip in caramel? ›

For dipping in caramel, we recommend the ever-loved Granny Smith, which offers the right amount of tartness to offset the sweetness of caramel. New, up-and-coming apples for making caramel apples include: Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, and SweeTango®.

How do you melt caramel for sauce? ›

How to Make Caramel Sauce from Caramels. Place the caramels in a medium saucepan with the water. Heat the pan over medium-low heat. Once the candies start to melt, stir them often until they are completely melted, and the mixture is smooth.

How do you melt caramel? ›

Place the unwrapped caramels into a medium-sized saucepan and add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook the caramels over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes.

How do you thicken caramel sauce? ›

For each cup (240 mL) of caramel sauce that you need to thicken, run 1 tbsp (14.7 mL) of cold water into a measuring cup, and slowly stir in 1 tbsp of cornstarch. Pour the cornstarch mixture into your pot caramel sauce, and stir constantly. Keep the sauce on low heat until it begins to thicken.

How is caramel made? ›

Caramel is a type of cooked candy that's created by heating white granulated sugar slowly to 340 degrees Fahrenheit. This gradual heating process breaks down the sugar's molecules and creates a deep golden brown color and rich flavor.

How do you get caramel to stick to caramel apples? ›

To help the caramel stick to your apples, you'll want to soak them for a few minutes in hot tap water with a dash of vinegar added. Then scrub off any wax with a kitchen towel. Once ready, tilt pan to pool caramel. Use a twirling motion to evenly coat each apple; allow excess caramel to drip off.

What is good dipped in caramel? ›

Marzetti Caramel Dips compliment a variety of fruits like apples, bananas, pineapple, pears, and more. Spread Caramel Dip on toast. Perfect as an ice cream topping* Dip pretzels or drizzle* over popcorn for an evening snack.

How do you make caramel with just sugar? ›

How to Caramelize Sugar | Epicurious - YouTube

What kind of apples are good for apple sauce? ›

For a basic applesauce, use McIntosh and Golden Delicious apples. Golden Delicious is a softer apple variety, so it cooks down easily and provides a great foundation for your applesauce. McIntosh apples are fresh and crisp, but soften easily, making them a stellar choice for pies and sauces.

Do caramel apples need to be refrigerated? ›

Do not leave caramel apples out at room temperature. If you make them at home and eat them right away, candy or caramel apples won't be contaminated with listeria. If a candy or caramel apple stays refrigerated, it won't be able to grow the harmful bacteria, either.

How do you thin caramel for dipping? ›

Add one tablespoon (14.8 mL) of heavy cream or milk.

Heavy cream is best, as it'll preserve the flavor and consistency of your caramel sauce. Start with one tablespoon (14.8 mL), and then add more in ½-tablespoon (7.4-mL) increments if you need the sauce to be thinner.

Does melted caramel harden? ›

The melting point of caramel is 150-170 degrees and makes it the perfect consistency for pouring or dipping. If it gets much hotter than that, it will cook the caramel causing it to harden and crack upon cooling.

How do you soften homemade caramel that is too hard? ›

If caramels are too hard, you can try placing them back in a saucepan, adding a couple tablespoons of water and stirring until the thermometer reads 242°F. Pour back into a prepared buttered pan.

What do you add to caramel when melting? ›

How to Melt Caramel Candies Into a Sauce - YouTube

Can you use butter to melt caramel? ›

Coat a large cooking pan with 1 tbsp of salted butter to prevent the caramel from sticking to the pan. Start heating the butter on low heat before adding your caramel. It's important to not add to much butter or you could disrupt the taste of the melted caramel.

Is caramel and caramel the same thing? ›

Carmel and caramel are not different spellings of the same word. Caramel is the correct spelling if you're talking about food or colors. Carmel is a misspelling when used in those contexts, but it is a word that can be used as a name for people or places.

How do you get caramel to stick to caramel apples? ›

To help the caramel stick to your apples, you'll want to soak them for a few minutes in hot tap water with a dash of vinegar added. Then scrub off any wax with a kitchen towel. Once ready, tilt pan to pool caramel. Use a twirling motion to evenly coat each apple; allow excess caramel to drip off.

Should I refrigerate a caramel apple? ›

We recommend refrigerating your Gourmet Caramel Apples as soon as you receive them. This is the best way to maintain their firmness and taste. How long are Caramel Apples good for in the fridge? When chilled, our Caramel Apples will be delicious for up to three weeks.

How do you put a stick in an apple? ›

Easy Way To Add Apple Sticks & Straws - YouTube

Does caramel harden in the fridge? ›

Caramel thickens as it cools. Cover tightly and store for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Caramel solidifies in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove to desired consistency.

How do you thicken caramel sauce? ›

For each cup (240 mL) of caramel sauce that you need to thicken, run 1 tbsp (14.7 mL) of cold water into a measuring cup, and slowly stir in 1 tbsp of cornstarch. Pour the cornstarch mixture into your pot caramel sauce, and stir constantly. Keep the sauce on low heat until it begins to thicken.

How is caramel made? ›

Caramel is a type of cooked candy that's created by heating white granulated sugar slowly to 340 degrees Fahrenheit. This gradual heating process breaks down the sugar's molecules and creates a deep golden brown color and rich flavor.

What can I use instead of caramel? ›

Fudge and butterscotch candy can replace caramel extract in pretty much any dessert, as they share a similar sugary base. Vanilla extract, almond extract, and butter extract are not based on sugar, but they can still provide the desired sweetness and unique, dominant aroma.

Can I leave caramel apples out overnight? ›

Do not leave caramel apples out at room temperature. If you make them at home and eat them right away, candy or caramel apples won't be contaminated with listeria. If a candy or caramel apple stays refrigerated, it won't be able to grow the harmful bacteria, either.

How many days in advance can you make caramel apples? ›

Make Ahead and Store

Caramel apples should not be stored at room temperature. Refrigerate them and store them chilled for up to two weeks. Let them come to room temperature to serve; the caramel will be more pliable at room temp and the apples easier to eat.

How long can a caramel apple sit out? ›

But because caramel-dipped apples are typically set out at room temperature for multiple days, maybe up to two weeks, it is enough time for the bacteria to grow." To be safe, Glass recommends consumers eat caramel apples fresh or look for ones that are refrigerated.

Why does the caramel slide off apples? ›

If the caramel is sliding off soon after being dipped, then the caramel is still too hot - let it cool longer. A candy thermometer is a must for caramel apples.

Which end of the apple do you put the stick? ›

Make sure you always put the "sticks" into the middle of the core and not through to the other side of the apple. It is thought that caramel apples started in the Mid-West with candy apples on both ocean coasts. QUESTION: I'm making about 150 red candy apples for a wedding reception.

How do you thin caramel for dipping? ›

Add one tablespoon (14.8 mL) of heavy cream or milk.

Heavy cream is best, as it'll preserve the flavor and consistency of your caramel sauce. Start with one tablespoon (14.8 mL), and then add more in ½-tablespoon (7.4-mL) increments if you need the sauce to be thinner.

How do you make caramel liquid? ›

A liquid caramel can be made using any quantity of sugar or water just as long as it follows the ratio of 2 parts sugar: 1 part water.

Should homemade caramel be refrigerated? ›

Homemade caramel candies don't need to be stored in the fridge, as long as they're wrapped well to be kept free of moisture. You can leave the caramels out at room temperature, tucked away from heat or light, and they'll stay fresh for six to nine months.

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