I grew up in New Jersey during the late 70”s and 80”s. In my personal opinion it was a great time to grow up there. When autumn came around it was not uncommon to spend lots of time outdoors. The trees were gorgeously bright in colorful hues and the air was always crisp with a slight aroma of hay. There were football games to attend (Yes- I was a cheerleader in my former life), leaves to run through while tossing them in the air, and pumpkin patches to visit with family (it was somewhat a ritual way to spend a afternoon together). There was a particular farm my family would go to religiously. It would all be decorated with scar crows and corn husks, along with bales of hay. Pumpkins would be everywhere with multiple squashes and gourds, there was cider to drink, hot donuts to eat, and candy apples! In my adolescent mind it was the perfect feast.
As many things do, time changes. That farm sold and became more of a “strip mall” when I was nearing my twenties and it was not the same any more. There still were pumpkins, donuts, cider and all; but the nostalgia of it all was just not there. Maybe I just grew up? But there is a side of me that missed those fall days that were cold enough to be wearing a sweater. I would be holing a small pumpkin, shielding my eyes from the sunshine, and munching on a candy apple. By “candy apple” I literally mean an apple that has been made into candy of sorts. Not those soft and gooey caramel ones. I mean rock hard, red as a fire truck, sugar candy coated apple.
Yes, I have not lived in New Jersey for quite some time. But I still have those memories and I long for the taste of a good candy apple. Living here in Seattle I see caramel apples galore, dipped in chocolate too, rolled in all sorts of nuts and candy (although they look tempting)…those are not the apples I am missing. I want the hard crunch and crack of sugar as you bite into the apple. The bright, crisp, and slightly sour taste of an apple next to the sugary coating is such a contrast – to be honest it is quite like joy in my mouth. I miss it and wanted one desperately. Luckily, living in Washington and being the state known for apples we have more than a few varieties to say the least. Just go to any number of the farmer’s markets and you will see bushels full, and it seems like every week or so there is a new variety that makes an appearance. I love looking them over and picking up a few pounds worth to eat as the week goes by.
So after craving a good candy apple I went to one of the farmers markets and picked up some honey crisp apples. They were not too large in size and I tasted them to be sure they were crisp. The flesh of these apples had a nice and bright flavor that I felt would pair nicely with the sugary coating. I picked up some unsweetened coconut shreds and headed home. (I really do not have an explanation for the coconut but the ones I use to eat had coconut on top of them.) Once home I dug into me cabinets and pulled out my thermometer and sticks to hold my apples with and I was underway. Within the hour we had Candy Apples! Yes, much like the ones of my childhood; but not bright red once. As the red coloring is just what it is, food coloring. I opted to be more natural, using no coloring and evaporated cane juice instead of white sugar. They were just like I remembered. My husband and I sat around after dinner and crunched away at the candy apples. We grinned and giggled like kids too. Sometimes revisiting a food memory can be just as fun as you remember.
Candy Apples (feeds 8)
*Notes- you will need a thermometer for this. If you do not have a candy thermometer, I personally find one that has a probe on a cord that attaches to your “base” telling you the temp works great. These are usually used for roasts or something like a turkey; but I use it all the time for cooking something like a custard or sugar.
**Notes- because I used and all natural sugar is was golden in huge to start....that is why the sugar has some color. If using white sugar for this your end result will be a clear sugar coating.
8 apples, as many as needed (I like Honey Crisp, Pink Lady, or McIntosh)
2 cups of sugar
¾ cup of water
1 tbsp of light corn syrup
1 cup of unsweetened coconut shreds
Candy or lollipop sticks
First, wash your apples well and completely dry them. Working on a flat surface, firmly hold your apple in hand while piercing it with the sticks. You want to pierce the apple though the center core of the apple. I find it works best to get the stick as far in as possible in order to “hold the apple once it is candies.
Meanwhile, prepare you work space. I like to have a parchment lined baking sheet ready, next to my pierced apples, a trivet for your pot of sugar, and a small plate filled with the coconut shreds.
Next, in a clean pot (anywhere from 2 – 4 quarts big) place your sugar. Over the top of the sugar pour your water and with your finger gently stir it together to be sure all the sugar is wet. To this add your corn syrup. At this point I add my thermometer and then place it over medium heat (see photo above). Without touching your sugar let it come to a simmer and cook. You must keep a close eye on the temperature. You are waiting for the sugar to reach 290 degrees F or 143 degrees C.
Then, when temperature is reached; place your pot in the space you have reserved for it in your work space. Carefully – you do not want to burn yourself – take an apple by the stick and dip it into the cooked sugar, roll it back and forth to be sure it gets coated, and pull it out of the cooked sugar. I gently and carefully let it drip over the pot and give it a gentle shake to knock off any excess sugar.
Finally, place the apple stick side up in the coconut. Once the coconut sticks (it takes only seconds) place on your parchment to cool and harden. Once sugar has hardened it is ready to eat. Apples will keep for two to three days at room temperature. Be sure to keep in a dry place as if it gets “wet” the sugar will lose its crispness and get tacky.