Holiday Entertaining

Our All-Time Favorite Candy Apple Recipe, Perfected

A classy update on the classic trick-or-treat favorite.

October 27, 2017
Photo by Julia Gartland

Before writing this post, I had never eaten a candy apple that I enjoyed. In the past, I had been drawn in by their glossy, hypnotic-red exterior—and inevitably ended up disappointed by a mealy, sub-par apple while wiping shards of sugar off of my nose. But apples are amazing when they’re at their peak during fall! And sugar is definitely good, of course! So why is their union so consistently lackluster, artificial-tasting, and downright bad? Answer: we don’t know, but we know it doesn't have to be this way. Not if you source some top-notch apples and lightly coat them in melted, spiced sugar (and maybe even roll them in salted nuts or seeds, if you're over the top like that).

I flavored the sugar shell mixture with cinnamon oil (which has a much stronger kick than ground cinnamon and blends seamlessly into the melted sugar) and a shake of cayenne pepper, for spice. Finally, I went a bit over-the-top by rolling the bottoms of my just-dipped apples into roasted, salted pepitas. If you're not feeling that ambitious, they will still look—and taste—lovely without this extra step.

The only (slightly) tricky part of this recipe, besides hunting down small apples, is melting the sugar; you want to heat it to the hard crack stage so that it sets hard and shiny. The hard crack stage happens between 300°F and 310°F (read all about sugar melting and caramel chemistry here), so the easiest way to get there is to use an (accurate) candy thermometer. However, if you don't have a candy thermometer, you can try the ice water method, though it won't be as consistent. Ahead, learn how to make caramel-coated apples sprinkled with pepitas using just a few simple ingredients like sugar, corn syrup, and water.

Choosing the Apples

When developing the perfect caramel apple recipe for fall, I sought out petite apples that are a little bit smaller than a tennis ball, so that one could bite into them without having to unhinge their jaw. (The types of apples I used for candy apples were Spitzenberg and Empire, but any firm, slightly tart apple will work well.)

If you’ve recently gone apple picking, then our candy apple recipe is the perfect way to make use of your bounty. However, you can also use your favorite apple variety from the grocery store. Any crisp snacking apple is ideal—we especially love the flavor contrast of something tart like a Crispin or Granny Smith coated in sweet, sweet caramel sauce.

How Long Are Candy Apples Good For?

Refrigerating caramel apples is the best way to maintain their freshness. While you can safely leave them at room temperature for a few hours—say for a kids’ Halloween party or fall harvest festival—it’s best to store candy apples that are covered in caramel and sprinkles in the refrigerator. Layer them on wax paper in a large airtight container; the paper will prevent them from sticking to any surfaces. If stored properly, caramel apples will keep for one to three weeks.

How to Make Candy Apples

To prepare our recipe for caramel apples, start by lining a baking sheet with greased parchment paper or wax paper, which will keep the candy apples from sticking. From here, insert wooden popsicle sticks or chopsticks into the stem end of the apple, going about halfway into the fruit. The wooden stick not only acts as a handle for eating the coated apples, but it also helps you to dip the apples easily into the caramel sauce.

Over medium-high heat, combine sugar, water, and corn syrup and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar mixture dissolves. After about 15 to 20 minutes, the mixture should caramelize and reach the desired temperature of 300℉. Remove from the heat and stir in cayenne pepper for a serious kick and a teaspoon of cinnamon oil. If you want to dye the caramel sauce a bewitching shade of red, this is the time to do that. Slowly and carefully dip each apple in the caramel and then immediately stamp and roll the bottoms of the sugared apples into the pepitas, if using. Let the finished apples set for a few minutes on a wax paper-lined tray until the sugar is completely hard. Serve as-is for a more "authentic" candy apple-eating experience, or slice each apple into wedges. Convert everyone around you to the candy apple cult.

How to Test Candy Temperatures Without a Thermometer

To use the ice water method, set a bowl of ice water and a clean spoon next to the stove before you begin melting the sugar. When the candy mixture has been bubbling for about 10 minutes, spoon about a teaspoon's worth into the ice water. When it forms hard, brittle strands that break when you try to bend them, the sugar is at the hard crack stage.

Have you ever made candy apples before? What are your favorite toppings? Let us know in the comments below!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • FrugalCat
  • Printz
  • TJ
  • Catherine Lamb
    Catherine Lamb
A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.


FrugalCat October 29, 2017
For the traditional trick along with the treats- one of the candied apples is actually a raw onion.
Printz October 29, 2017
Currently I’m loving Sweet Tango apples that have limited availability, but they are smaller in size and very good eating. Making these for tonight’s football/Halloween gathering-excellent timing for the recipe- Thanks!
TJ October 28, 2017
In the photo, the candy coating appears red. Did you add red coloring to that batch? They look so pretty!
Catherine L. October 30, 2017
Hey TJ,
Yes, we added food coloring to this batch! Just a few drops should do the trick nicely. I'll edit the recipe to make it clear when to add it (after the sugar is done cooking).