My mom and I worked together on gift boxes of goodies for our friends and neighbors for Christmas.  This year, instead of just the usual decorated cookies, we decided to include candies and - best of all - gourmet caramel apples.  We'd seen them in stores, heavily laden with chocolate and sprinkles, for up to $17 per apple.  Surely we could do as well and spend much less.

At first, we tried a couple of different trial apples. We had figured out that we wanted the caramel, milk chocolate, and granny smith apple, probably with white chocolate drizzle. What we hadn't decided was what crunchy bits to put on. So the first apple had Red Hots only, and the second one had red hots, peanuts, and toffee bits. Our peanuts were lightly crushed with a meat mallet, but the candies defied all hammering; you wouldn't think that candies that small would be that hard, but they are. Thus we decided to put them briefly in the blender, sifting the results into two piles. The first pile, which we used on our apples, was the larger fragments which were the consistency of rock salt; the second was a powder that wouldn't have looked good on the apples, so we sprinkled it in our coffee. 

Tasting the first was amazing; Mom looked as though she was about to melt! The Red Hots provided a zip that was easily noticeable, but blending with the apple as it would in a pie. These combined and mellowed with the deeper tone of the chocolate, which anchored the flavor and gave it some staying power on the palette. The caramel anchored the mix to our teeth and gave it still more staying power :-).

The second, by contrast, was underwhelming. It looked impressive, but the peanuts competed with the chocolate, and the toffee cancelled out the Red Hots, leaving a very muddy taste. So in the end we decided to go with just the Red Hots.

We really didn't want to bother with the cleanup and general trouble of actually dipping the apples in caramel, so we used sheets of caramel, available in the produce section of the grocery store. We chose the biggest apples we could find that would still fit in our 4" square boxes, so we could have used just one caramel sheet to cover them. But that would have been a very thin coating of caramel and, well, it wouldn't have been any fun. So we decided to go with two sheets per apple. All we had to do is wrap the apple up, one sheet of caramel from the bottom and the second sheet from the top, rub it in our hands for a few seconds to smooth the coating, then put them in the oven for a few minutes to soften the caramel.

From there, we added the sticks, melted some milk chocolate and spooned that over the whole apple, letting the excess drip off. After that, we sprinkled them heavily with the candies. Once they had chilled in the fridge for a bit, we added the white chocolate drizzle. Actually, the white drizzle was a different kind than I thought we were going to do, due to a miscommunication. So we mixed the milk and white chocolate for a third color and did a crosshatching on top of the white. I think it turned out rather well – good enough that I pulled out my macro lens and got some pretty decent close-ups.

Caramel Apples

As we expected, the Red Hots apple was the most popular, followed by the peppermint, then the toffee. Each apple can be sliced into eight or ten pieces, so there was plenty of apple to go around. Leftover apple slices can be brushed with a little lemon juice and refrigerated for snacking later on. Next time you have a hankering for a fancy caramel apple, don't be afraid to make them yourself. It was a lot of fun to do and well worth the small amount of effort it took.

The apples for the neighbors went over so well, we decided to make more to take along with us to our Christmas-day family gathering at my grandfather's house. There would be a lot of people there, so we decided to make three apples, each a different flavor. We sprinkled one with Red Hots as we did before, sprinkled a second one with toffee bits, and a third one with crushed peppermint sticks. This time I drizzled the white chocolate on in a less-heavy crosshatch pattern to produce these stunning beauties: