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Published October 30, 2010, 12:00 AM

Gooey caramel apples an autumn favorite

The little girl was in tears. She had waited in line during the West Fargo Public Library Caramel Apple Day to get an apple dunked in buttery caramel.

The little girl was in tears.

She had waited in line during the West Fargo Public Library Caramel Apple Day to get an apple dunked in buttery caramel. But now she sat at a table, staring miserably at her uneaten treat. Alarmed, Diane Fink, program coordinator at the library, asked her what was wrong.

The little one opened her mouth to reveal two missing front teeth.

Library staff quickly came to the rescue. “We cut it up for her,” Fink says, with a sympathetic chuckle.

But that’s the way it is when you miss out on the ultimate autumn treat. Caramel apples may not be easy on our teeth, but they are fairly easy to make and highly satisfying to eat. That trademark pairing of crisp, juicy apple and chewy, gooey caramel has become a fall classic.

Right now, it’s “high season” for caramel apples at Carol Widman Candy Co. in Fargo. Proprietor Carol Widman says her candymakers start making the apples in mid-September and continue through Halloween weekend. Widman apples are dunked in caramel made from an old family recipe. They are available in regular caramel or caramel rolled in nuts. The latter “look like they could feed a family of four,” Widman says. “They’re huge.”

Widman says they sell so many apples each year that she won’t hazard a guess as to the exact number. “We’re just very busy with them,” she says.

That’s a Wrapple

The origin of the caramel apple is unclear. Some attribute its invention to Kraft Foods salesman Dan Walker in the 1950s. Others say the candied treat had already been around as early as the late 19th century and Walker simply played a part in marketing them.

Regardless, caramel apples remained a harvesty favorite for years. Folks routinely gave out the sticky treat-kebabs to Halloween trick-or-treaters. But in the 1960s, stories of food-tampering – some proven to be true – began to circulate, according to Snopes.com. One of the most persistent rumors involved razors and needles in apples.

As a result, it was no longer OK to accept caramel apples from strangers. Even so, people still made caramel apples for their own families. Kraft invented the time-saving Wrapple in the 1970s. It consisted of a circular sheet of caramel, which could be wrapped around the apple, harpooned with a stick and microwaved. The Wrapple no longer exists, although many Walmarts carry the similar Caramel Apple Wrap from Concord Foods.

Nowadays, caramel apples are back with a vengeance. Today’s versions are drizzled with chocolate, rolled in candy and sometimes even stuffed with ganache. Some gourmet versions found online weigh as much as a small dog and command $15 a pop.

Apples to apples

The good news: You don’t need to take out a second mortgage to satisfy your family’s sweet tooth. You can make your own at home – either by melting down good old Kraft caramels or making your own from scratch.

One of the first considerations will be which apple to pick. In general, the same apples that are ideal for pies are perfect for caramel apples. Look for a tart variety with a firm, non-mealy flesh (sorry, Red Delicious). Good choices include Braeburn, Fuji, Jonagold, Harrelson, Pippin, Pink Lady, Jonathan, Cameo – and if you really must have a sweeter apple – the fabulously juicy Honeycrisp.

But the No. 1 choice is Granny Smith, characterized by a striking green skin, mouth-puckering sourness and sturdy texture. All of the caramel apples sold at Carol Widman’s begin with a Granny Smith. “It keeps its firmness throughout the season, and its tartness is a nice complement to the caramel,” Widman says.

Easy Caramel

1 (14-ounce) bag of caramels, unwrapped

2 tablespoons of milk, cream or water

Unwrap caramels and melt them over a low heat while stirring in milk, water or cream. Stir frequently. When the caramels have melted into a smooth liquid, they’re ready to use.

Brenda Levos, a Facebook friend who lives in Leonard, N.D., was kind enough to share this favorite caramel recipe with me. She says it’s such a crowd-pleaser that you’ll want to double the batch.

Homemade Caramel

¾ cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Nuts (optional)

In a three-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, combine butter, sugar and corn syrup. Heat to a full boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Boil three minutes, stirring the whole time. “I know you are getting tired, but keep stirring,” Levos says. “Trust me, you don’t want burned chunks in your caramel.”

Slowly pour in sweetened condensed milk, continuing to stir constantly. Continue cooking over medium heat until candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees (soft ball stage). Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Stir until well blended. Let caramel cool slightly so it thickens a bit for dipping. Hold apple over pan and use wooden spoon to coat it. Roll in nuts, if desired, and cool on greased wax paper.

Crock-Pot Caramel

2 (14-ounce) packages caramels

¼ cup water

8 apples

8 sticks

Optional add-ons: nuts, M&M’s, mini chocolate chips, candy decorations

Combine caramels and water in slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring frequently.

Wash apples under hot water, scrubbing them vigorously to get rid of any wax. Insert stick into stem end of each apple. Turn Crock-Pot control on low. Dip apple into hot caramel and turn to coat entire surface. Holding apple above pot, use a wooden spoon to scrape off excess caramel from bottom of apple. Place on greased waxed paper to cool. Once the caramel has set, roll the apple in the toppings.

Source: www.cdkitchen.com

The decadent caramel apple below not only includes sweetened peanuts and plenty of gooey topping but is stuffed with a peanut butter-laced ganache.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Caramel Apples with Honey Peanuts

8 large Braeburn apples at room temperature

8 chopsticks or craft sticks

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Ganache:

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

¼ cup smooth peanut butter

½ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract


2 cups honey-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

2 cups packed brown sugar

1 ¾ cups heavy cream

¾ cup dark corn syrup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons kosher salt

To prepare apples:

1. Wash the apples under hot water to remove any wax coating, scrubbing if necessary. Dry thoroughly. Starting at the bottom, core each apple with the smaller scoop of a melon baller. Reserve the bottom “plugs” of the apples. Continue coring up to the top inch of the apples (you want all the seeds removed). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. To make ganache: Combine bittersweet chocolate and peanut butter in a small heatproof bowl; set aside. Combine cream and vanilla in a small saucepan and bring to simmer over medium heat, about 3 minutes. Pour hot cream over chocolate mixture and let sit until chocolate is mostly melted, about 2 minutes. Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth.

3. Stuff apples with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the ganache; then close with the reserved apple plugs to seal. Push the sticks through the stem ends of the apples, and set the apples on the baking sheet.

To prepare coating:

1. Place peanuts in shallow dish; set aside. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a bowl halfway with ice and water.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until mixture registers 250 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately dip the bottom of the saucepan in the ice water bath and let it chill until the bubbles have subsided, about 1 minute. Stir until stiff caramel from the bottom is incorporated into the warm caramel on top. Remove from water bath.

3. Dip the stuffed apples one at a time into the caramel, rotating once to coat ¾ of the way up the sides. Lift each apple straight up from the caramel, letting the excess drip back into the pot until the drips have slowed, about 10 to 15 seconds.

4. Roll the apple in the peanuts, and hold upright for 10 to 15 seconds. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat process with other apples. (If the caramel gets too hard to coat the apples well, set the pan over low heat and rewarm, stirring constantly, until the caramel is loose and pourable.)

5. Refrigerate apples until set, about 10 minutes. They can be made and stored in the refrigerator one day in advance.

Source: www.chow.com

And, for those who like their caramel apples in liquid form:

Caramel Apple Cider

1 (one-serving) package dry apple cider mix, mixed according to manufacturer’s directions

Bacardi Gold Rum, to taste

Caramel coffee syrup, to taste

Cinnamon, to taste

Mix all ingredients but rum together and heat on stovetop. Stir in rum to taste before serving.

Source: Sadie Rudolph, Fargo.

If you go

  • What: Caramel Apple Day
  • When: 4 p.m. Nov. 12
  • Where: West Fargo Public Library, 109 3rd St. E.
  • Info: Free, while supplies last.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525