Traditional-tasting caramel apples without cream, sugar, butter, or corn syrup? It’s true! Finally figuring out this recipe was like cracking a secret code. It was like making a world-changing discovery. It was like striking GOLD. Rich, buttery, sweet, and sticky caramel gold.
Alright, alright, I’m being a bit dramatic. It’s not my fault, you guys. It’s this caramel. IT’S REALLY THAT GOOD. These are everything you’ve ever dreamed of, all on a not-so-easy-to-eat caramel encapsulated apple on a stick. It’s totally worth getting caramel stuck to your teeth and apple juice smeared on your face.
So what’s the secret to making caramel apples? It seemed to me that most recipes combined sugar + fat/milk and then boiled it down to a thick and sweet, apple hugging confection. Most recipes for caramel apples use heavy cream and corn syrup (and sometimes butter as well), but I found a few that called for cream and honey. That led me to wonder if I could use maple syrup in place of honey. Many sites I came across explained that the reason corn syrup and honey are successful in making caramel is due to their composition of mostly fructose and glucose. Maple syrup on the other hand is made up of mostly sucrose and water, and according to other bloggers who have tried, it won’t work to make a firm caramel coating. I immediately looked up dates. Bingo! Dates are predominately made up of fructose and glucose, theoretically making them an ideal candidate for caramel making.
I knew from experience that blending whole dates with a handful of other ingredients made a ridiculously good healthy caramel dip. While it was great for dipping, it wasn’t great for swirling onto an apple on a stick, as it stays soft and creamy and doesn’t harden. I tried blending it with more coconut oil, in hopes it would firm up like classic caramel. The results were less than impressive. Eventually I realized I needed to boil down my caramel to get the right consistency. This meant I had to turn my dates into a liquid syrup, like the corn syrup and honey that other recipes called for. This ended up being much easier than I thought, and doesn’t require a separate step of making date syrup first.
While I can’t say that these are “healthy,” I can say that they are free of GMO corn syrup, and free of animal derived ingredients like honey, butter, and dairy. I also can’t say they’re a quick and easy treat to make, because you’re going to want to set aside about an hour to put these together. All that being said, caramel apples are the quintessential autumn/fall/Halloween treat, and making them at home once a year is a fabulous tradition to start with your friends or family. Also, these are definitely more delicious than anything you could buy at a store. Store-bought caramel apples are typically made with the cheapest ingredients around, and taste like it too. If I’m going to splurge on a sweet treat, it better be amazing. These homemade caramel apples are going to blow your mind!
Start a new fall tradition and set aside an afternoon to make a batch of the most rich, buttery, sweet, and chewy caramel apples your taste buds have ever met.
Two Ingredient Classic Caramel Apples – Vegan and Corn syrup/Refined Sugar Free
- 10 Large Medjool Dates, pitted
- 1 cup hot water (and another cup later)
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (scooped from the top of a can of coconut milk)
- pinch or two of salt
Caramel Apple Prep
- 4 small apples, ready with sticks or skewers
- Have a parchment-lined plate ready
*When the caramel is almost ready, you’ll need to fill your sink several inches with cold water
- Place the dates in a shallow bowl and cover with one cup of very hot water. I just boiled water in my kettle and used that. Allow to soak until the water has cooled then mash the dates in the bowl with a potato masher.
2. Strain the mashed dates through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag over a bowl, catching the date liquid.
3. Once you’ve strained all the liquid, scrape the dates out of the cheesecloth and put back in the soaking bowl and repeat the process. Pour 1 cup of hot water over the dates again (I used the now slightly cooled water from the kettle again). Mash again, no need to wait this time. And strain through the nut milk bag or cheesecloth into the bowl of date liquid. Save the date fibers for smoothies.
4. Now measure out a half cup of scooped out coconut cream, and combine with the date liquid (You should have about 1 1/2 cups date liquid) in a medium pot. Add a couple pinches of salt. Whisk well until no clumps of coconut cream remain. Turn the heat to medium high and bring to a bowl, stirring constantly.
4. Turn the heat down slightly and keep it at a constant low boil. Keep stirring occasionally and stay close by. Continue boiling until the liquid has reduced by more than half and thickened, and is darker in color. This will take anywhere from 25 – 40 minutes. As it reduces, keep stirring and don’t let it burn. When it coats the back of the spoon with no problem, it’s ready.
5. Remove from heat and carefully place the bottom of the pot in the sink with cold water, being careful not to get water in the caramel. Stir to cool and thicken the caramel. Now it’s ready to coat the apples. I used a wooden spoon to scoop and swirl and smooth the caramel around the apples. You can roll them in chopped pecans, peanuts, or other nuts or toppings of choice. Place the apples on a parchment lined plate and pop in the fridge for 15 minutes before eating. Store in the fridge.
Notes: Be very very CAREFUL while making caramel. Extremely hot, thick liquid can be dangerous. Keep it always at a low boil and watch out for any spitting liquid or bubbling up. If kept at a low boil and in a medium pot, it shouldn’t be bubbling out. Keep little ones away from the stove and the hot caramel.