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Vegan caramel apples are the answer to your dairy-free candy dreams

vegan caramel apples final beauty

A caramel apple is one of fall’s sweetest pleasures. Biting into a crisp, juicy apple reminds me that autumn is upon us — and, of course, everything is better when it’s coated in candy.

Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced the delight of a caramel apple in quite some time. Caramel is traditionally made with butter and heavy cream, both on the absolute no-go list for vegans. Sure, vegan butter is readily available in most supermarkets and specialty stores, but vegan heavy cream isn’t exactly a thing yet. So, you can imagine my excitement when I discovered how to make a delicious vegan caramel using coconut cream, which is available in most supermarkets.

vegan caramel apple with chocolate

Think coconut cream means strong coconut flavor? Nope. The taste is virtually undetectable in the finished product. This vegan caramel tastes pretty darn close to the caramel I remember from my childhood: buttery, decadent and oh-so-sweet.

Making caramel can be a tricky process, so plan on whipping these up on a day when you have a bit of free time. It wouldn’t hurt to have backup ingredients on deck, too, just in case the first attempt goes awry. Once the caramel is done, though, making the caramel apples is quite easy — and decorating them with whatever treats, candies and toppings you like is fun.

MORE: This Instant Pot pumpkin soup is a delicious vegan recipe for chilly days

One other note: You need a candy thermometer. No, the meat thermometer that you use once a year on your Thanksgiving turkey isn’t going to cut it.

apple and caramel ingredients

Ingredients

  • 6-7 Granny Smith apples (or any apples you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • Pinch salt
  • Toppings (optional)

Instructions

Step 1

Wash the apples in a bowl of hot water and vinegar. Scrub firmly with a clean kitchen towel or cloth to remove as much of the waxy residue as possible. If you leave the wax on the apples, the caramel will slide right off when you try to coat them with caramel, so don’t skip this step, even if your apples are already clean.

green apples in water

Step 2

Remove the stems. Poke a craft stick through the top of each apple where its stem was.

Step 3

Put the apples in the freezer and let them cool while you make the caramel.

Not all apples are created symmetrically, so some apples will slant, leaving their sticks at a diagonal. I think these particular apples look like they belong in “Alice in Wonderland,” which I find endearing. If this bothers you, place your apples on a flat surface at the store before you purchase them to make sure they stand up straight.

To make the caramel:

Step 1

Put all the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir frequently over medium heat until the butter and sugar have melted completely.

caramel apple ingredients in pot

Step 2

Insert the candy thermometer toward the side of the saucepan, and stir occasionally until the caramel mixture comes to a boil.

Step 3

Stop stirring and wait until the caramel reaches around 245 F (anywhere from 15-45 minutes). Pay attention to the thermometer. If you remove the caramel too soon, it will be soupy and won’t adhere to the apple. If you leave it too long, it will burn and crystalize.

caramel apples boiling

Step 4

When the caramel reaches the correct temperature, remove it from the heat and give it another stir. Let it sit for about 5 minutes and cool.

Step 5

In the meantime, prepare any toppings you want to coat your apples in. I went with red hots, crushed peanuts and chocolate shell drizzles, but the possibilities are endless! Crushed Oreos, chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles — really, any candy your heart desires — are fair game! Place the toppings you want on plates that are easily accessible from wherever you are coating your apples. Then, lay a sheet of wax or parchment paper on an oven pan or cutting board (make sure it will fit in your fridge) so that you can set the apples down after coating them.

MORE: Sweet potato pecan rolls give the cinnamon roll a much-needed fall makeover

Step 6

When the caramel has cooled, swirl your apples in the caramel, and then hold them upside down by the stick for about 10 seconds to send the caramel toward the top. Vegan caramel tends to be a bit runnier then it’s non-vegan counterpart, so expect the caramel to pool a bit at the bottom. Tip: Cover the bottom of the coated apple in a little bit of the topping before setting it on the parchment paper so that it doesn’t pool as much.

dipped caramel apple over pot

Step 7

Set the apples in the fridge for around 10-15 minutes to set, then take them out and add more toppings if you like.

dipped vegan caramel apples in toppings

Step 8

Store the apples in the fridge; they tend to melt in warm air. Enjoy the apples within 2-3 days.

vegan caramel apples beauty shot

Vegan caramel apples

Yield 6-7 apples

Ingredients

  • 6-7 Granny Smith apples (or any apples you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • Pinch salt
  • Toppings (optional)

Instructions

  1. Rinse apples in hot water and vinegar to help remove wax coating.
  2. Remove stems and insert wooden sticks through cores. Place apples freezer to cool.
  3. In medium saucepan, stir remaining ingredients over medium-low heat until sugar has dissolved and butter has melted.
  4. Once mixture begins boiling, add candy thermometer and stop stirring. Boil until candy thermometer reaches 245 F. Remove saucepan from heat.
  5. Let caramel sit for about 5 minutes.
  6. Remove apples from freezer. Dip each apple into saucepan, tilting pot while swirling apples around to evenly distribute caramel. Allow excess caramel to drip off, and then flip apple upside down for about 10 seconds to give caramel time to set.
  7. Place apples on lined baking sheet.
  8. Place baking sheet in fridge for about 10 minutes for caramel to firm up.
  9. Remove apples from fridge and add desired toppings (optional). Enjoy apples within 2-3 days.

Pair that caramel apple with a delicious fall drink that you can easily make vegan! Check out our healthier pumpkin spice latte recipe below.

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