Kraft Foods already had a strong foothold in the Halloween tradition with their popular individually wrapped caramels, tailor-made for dropping into the hungry bags of trick-or-treating ghosties and goblins. But they truly established themselves as a seasonal mainstay in the early 1950s with an innovation that seemed inevitable.
Dan Walker, a sales representative for Kraft, in a flash of genius, came up with the idea of including a handful of craft (popsicle) sticks in each package with an invitingly simple recipe for melting the caramels and dipping skewered apples into the sweet, sticky goo. A fun-to-make and even more fun-to-eat treat was born.
Or was it?
Caramel, made by heating sugar and water to high temperature until it transforms into a candy state, has been around since the 1700s. In those early years, this American creation was a hard candy that owed much of its popularity to its ease of storage and transport.
Sometime in the mid-1800s, the addition of cream brought the fat necessary to convert the brittle candy into the smooth and chewy confection we are familiar with today.
Its popularity soared, surpassing even the candy apple, and many confectioners entered the commercial market, including a candy maker by the name of Milton Hershey. Hershey later went on to find a modicum of success in the chocolate industry.
When modern caramel first hit its stride, the most popular fruit in America was still the apple (since surpassed, just barely, by bananas). Given the natural compatibility of the sweet/tart flesh of the apple with the velvety confection, it seems unlikely this pairing went unnoticed for so long. But as with so many things, marketing is everything and the advent of Kraft’s simple recipe and packaging launched the caramel apple as a coveted prize for the intrepid trick-or-treater of the 1950s and ’60s.
Sadly, those innocent days of homemade trick-or-treat bag stuffers are gone and we are left with “fun size” (code for “dang, that’s small”) pre-packaged candy or that vexing do-gooder down the street who thinks giving you a toothbrush is a good idea.
Fortunately, the caramel apple perseveres. A surefire hit at any Halloween party, they are easy to make and the whole family can get in on the action. After dipping your apples, consider coating them with popcorn, nuts, candy corn or whatever weirdness your kids might come up with. For an apple with added appeal to the adult palate, a little brandy or coffee can be added to the caramel or fleur de sel sprinkled on top for a gourmet twist on this classic treat.
From-Scratch Caramel Apples
- ½ cup butter
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon seasonal spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon), optional
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 10 medium tart apples (Granny Smith recommended)
- Toppings as desired (chopped nuts, candy corn, popcorn, Cheerios, etc.)
Melt butter in a medium heavy saucepan.
Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt and bring to a full boil.
Add cream and desired spices and continue to cook until temperature reaches 250 degrees.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
Skewer apples on craft sticks (or any stick will do) and dip into caramel, coating evenly.
Roll in topping of choice (if desired) and rest on greased baking sheet or waxed paper to cool.