Last year I wrote off the humble toffee apple. With barely a moment’s thought, I dismissed it as ‘deeply dissatisfying’ and moved on to alternatives, taking the requisite parts and baking them into a (frankly, deeply satisfying) apple-filled cake, drowning in caramel for Bonfire Night.
This year I am eating my words (and a lot of toffee apples). This year, I’m going back to basics: how to make toffee apples at home that don’t disappoint. It turns out – as is often the case – that the problem isn’t with the poor old toffee apple, but with the execution. And, of course, that makes sense: the composite parts are sure winners. Crisp, juicy apples, just coming to the end of their season, a thin layer of dark, smokey caramel cooked until it cracks under your teeth, glassy and brittle – no place here for wan, weeping flavourless sugar.
The tricks to achieving delightful toffee apples are almost insultingly simple: use apples that you’d actually want to eat, nothing wooly, or soft. A taut, firm skin, with sharp, crunchy flesh beneath is what you’re looking for. Briefly dunking the apples in boiling water will remove any waxiness, and ensure that the caramel sticks to the apple skin. Taking the caramel to the proper sugar stage prevents any stickiness: the sugar needs to be cooked to hard crack stage (146°C); a sugar thermometer pays dividends here, but it’s perfectly possible to achieve without one.
Simply drop a blob of the caramel into cold water: it should harden immediately, and there will be an audible crack. Finally, don’t leave the apples for too long: the pleasure of a good toffee apple is in that first bite, breaking through the thin, hard caramel into the fruit. After a couple of hours, the caramel will start to absorb moisture from the air and soften. It goes like this…
Makes: 6 toffee apples
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
6 small, crisp apples
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
A drop of red food colouring
1. Pour boiling water over the apples, and dry them thoroughly with a clean tea towel – this removes any wax so that the caramel will stick.
2. Pull out the stalk and plunge a lollypop stick into each apple. Put a silpat mat or non-stick greaseproof paper on a heatproof surface – I use a thick chopping board.
3. Make the caramel by heating the sugar with 70ml water in a wide pan. Bring to the boil and add the vinegar, golden syrup and food colouring.
4. Continue heating the caramel until it reaches hard crack stage. If you have a sugar thermometer, you need to wait until the caramel reaches 146°C. If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, once the caramel has turned brown, start testing it: drop a small amount of the caramel into a glass of water. It should solidify as soon as it hits the water, and there will be an audible ‘crack’.
5. Once it’s reached the hard crack stage, remove from the heat and work quickly: take each apple in turn, holding it by the stick, and sweep it through the caramel. Lift it clean from the caramel, and repeat the sweep through the caramel. Immediately transfer to the silpat or greaseproof paper, standing them flat with the lollypop stick pointing up.
6. Leave for 10 minutes until the caramel has cooled and is completely hard, then peel away from the mat. Eat within a few hours or the caramel will begin to soften.