Here's a scary thought: Some of our Halloween party guests will be sporting braces this year along with their costumes. Does that mean I should skip the caramel apples this year? If you don't have an orthodontist to answer to, you should definitely make these cider-caramel apples. They're not at all difficult, and older kids can do the dipping. Use tart, flavorful apples—Braeburn, Honeycrisp, and a new variety I just discovered called Sweet Tango are my current favorites, but Pink Ladies will also do nicely.
Lucky apples! Their cloak of sticky caramel has the mingled flavors of apple cider, bourbon vanilla, butter, and sea salt. You’ll never make regular caramel apples again.
12 medium-sized apples
12 wooden sticks
2 cups sugar
1 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract
Wash and dry the apples and twist off the stems. Insert a stick into the stem end of each apple and set aside. Lightly butter a baking sheet.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the sugar, cider, and corn syrup until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Have a clean pastry brush and a glass of water handy for occasionally washing down the sides of the pot with the wet brush to keep sugar crystals from forming.
Cook without stirring until the mixture turns a golden amber color and measures about 300°on a candy thermometer, which should take between 10 and 15 minutes. While it cooks, heat the cream, butter, and salt together, either in a small pan or in the microwave, until the butter is melted and the cream is hot.
Once the sugar mixture is golden brown, carefully pour in the cream mixture. It will bubble up! Give it a stir to make sure there are no undissolved caramel bits on the bottom of the pot, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches about 248 on the candy thermometer. This only took about 5 minutes for me, so keep a close eye on it. Stir in the vanilla and then remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
Dip the apples one at a time and hold them over the pot to catch any excess drips. Place on the prepared baking pan and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes or up to 2 days (cover them with plastic wrap if you’re making them more than a few hours ahead, to keep them fresh.)