My boys are called to the apple bins at the grocery store these days like a siren song. Framing every bin are rows of gooey caramel apples, studded with nuts, candies and chocolate. Seriously, I can’t blame them for being drawn in, they are irresistible. But, then you bite into them and they are always just a touch disappointing. The apples are usually soft and the caramel is cloyingly sweet and tastes like it was from the previous generation. I convinced my boys to walk by without taking one, but only after promising to make them some at home. We picked fresh, crisp, juicy apples (Honeycrisp, Sweet Tango or a variety that is a bit tart). The caramel is easy to make and is rich, creamy, gooey and not over-the-top sweet. I like them with salted peanuts pressed into the caramel, but the boys like the apples dipped in caramel with no other interruptions.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 small apples
1/2 cup crushed salted peanuts, optional
To make the caramel apples:
Prepare a cookie sheet with a lightly buttered sheet of parchment, set aside.
In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter, then add the brown sugar, corn syrup, honey and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture starts to boil. This can take about 10 minutes.
Add the sweetened condensed milk and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 238°F on a Candy Thermometer .
Once the caramel reaches the right temperature, remove from the heat
and allow it to cool to about 200°F. It will begin to thicken as it cools. It should be thin enough to coat the apple, but thick enough to cling to the fruit.
While the caramel is cooling, stick the Lollipop  or popsicle sticks into the apple. Make sure they are deep enough that they won’t fall out while you are dipping the apples in the caramel.
Dip the apples into the caramel. I like how they look when some of the apple is still showing, but you can completely cover them if you prefer. Hold the apple over the pot of caramel and allow some of the excess to drip off before placing them on the sheet of buttered parchment.
If you want, dip the bottom in the crushed peanuts.
Keep the apples in a cool, dry place and they will last for a few days, loosely covered with plastic.