After looking around Pinterest for fun food ideas, I'd found a recipe for Shrunken Apple Heads and another for Peppermint Marshmallows when it hit me that I could make my own caramel apples, assuring that the apples were neither old, nor mealy, nor banged up! So I opened a new tab and searched epicurious for a recipe. I followed the one I found almost exactly and it worked really well.
The only thing I would have done differently is to place the apples in the refrigerator after the last step so that the caramel would set more quickly and not pool as much on the bottom (the recipe says to do this, but I didn't read carefully enough). Also, I used small granny smith apples because the giant ones, while visually appealing, are just too much apple and too much caramel for one person. As such, I had A LOT of caramel left over. Because I knew it would be a small game night crowd, I didn't want to make too many apples, so I've saved the extra caramel and will use it on ice cream or other desserts in the future.
Makes 16 caramel apples (will have extra caramel for other uses)
In a heavy saucepan, combine:
1 pound dark brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
Turn heat to medium low. Use a wooden spoon to combine ingredients until all of the sugar crystals dissolve completely (you'll know this has been accomplished when no sugar crystals can be felt when you rub a little of the caramel between your fingers). This will take about 15 minutes. Don't rush.
Increase heat to medium high. Caramel should begin to boil. Slowing and consistently stir with a wooden spoon. Use a candy thermometer to gauge temperature. Remove from heat once caramel reaches 236°.
Note: If this is your first foray into candy-making, you should know that 236 is not a random number. Getting impatient and removing the caramel from the heat too soon will result in caramel that isn't set enough; walking away and letting the caramel get too hot will result in caramel that sticks to your teeth. Further, remember that it is important to constantly stir so that the temperature of the caramel is consistent throughout.
Once the caramel reaches 236°, remove from the heat. Set aside for about 20 minutes to allow caramel to cool. Once the temperature drops to 200°, it is ready for dipping.
While the caramel cools, line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Butter the foil.
Wash and throughly dry:
16 small granny smith apples
Insert 1 short skewer into the stem-end of each apple. [16 skewers total]
Hold the bottom of the skewer and dip apple into the caramel so that all but the very top of the apple is submerged. Remove from caramel and allow excess caramel to drip back into the bowl. Turn apple right-side-up for several seconds.
Place on the bottom of the apple onto the aluminum foil. Repeat with remaining apples.
Starting with the first apple you dipped in the caramel, lift the apple from the foil and use your fingers to press the pooled caramel around the apple. Going in order from first-dipped to last-dipped, repeat with the remaining apples.
If using toppings, press into the sides of the caramel at this point. (I used toffee bits and white chocolate shavings.)
Place in refrigerator immediately and let set for at least an hour.
Remove from refrigerator about 15 minutes prior to serving.