With Halloween right around the corner, how about making a sweet treat that goblins of all ages enjoy: caramel apples?

“Caramel apples are such a festive fall dessert and fun to decorate with any number of options — flake coconut, finely chopped nuts, toffee pieces, mini-M&Ms and chocolate chips,” said Deidre Peak, owner of Sweet Addict Bakery. “There are dozens of ways to add to the candy apples. You can even drizzle with melted chocolate and top with sprinkles.”

Underneath all that topping are the two stars of the show: the apples and the caramel. You don’t have to rely on store-bought caramels, such as Kraft’s, to do the job. Caramel made from scratch is buttery and sweet, worth trying to make yourself.

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“We have a caramel recipe that is perfect for this altitude,” Peak said. “You just need to use a candy thermometer to be sure it’s cooked to the right temperature to stick to the apples and set up.”

When she’s making big batches of caramel to coat dozens of apples at a time, she uses a slow cooker to keep the caramel melted.

“Caramel must be prepared on the stove first in a heavy-bottomed pot,” she said, “but once the caramel has cooked, you can keep it warm in a slow cooker on the low setting. Give it a gentle stir every 10 minutes to ensure the butter doesn’t separate. It’s a great way to keep the caramel melted if you want to have a party where everyone can coat their own apples and decorate them.”

Peak says caramel can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

“When you’re about ready to dip, warm it in the crock pot or even the microwave for about 10 seconds at a time and stirring well between intervals until the caramel is a nice, smooth consistency again,” she said. “Just don’t overheat the caramel as the sugars can scorch very easily. Bonus tip: You can dip the apple multiple times — it creates a nice, thick layer of caramel goodness the more you dip.”

Peak’s favorite caramel apple is dipped in melted white chocolate after the caramel layer is set.

“Then I sprinkle it with a cinnamon and sugar mixture before the white chocolate hardens,” she said. “Allow it to cool again. Then slice and serve. Simple and so good.”

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Apple choice is important too, says Mari Younkin, a personal chef and another caramel apple expert.

“I like a sweet, crisp apple, such as Honeycrisp or Gala,” she said. “Granny Smiths are a popular choice for caramel apples because they are tart, which pairs well with sweet buttery caramel.”

Look for small to medium-sized apples that are as perfectly round as you can find. They should be firm with no soft spots. Also, apples purchased at the grocery store may be coated with wax, which needs to be removed or else the caramel won’t stay on. Remove wax by dipping apples in very warm water and rubbing off the wax while they’re under water for five to 10 minutes. Dry them well afterward.

Whichever caramel path you decide to take, Younkin has some preparation steps to keep in mind.

• Have all supplies and ingredients ready before beginning. Apples need to be at at room temperature.

• Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

• Pull out the apple stem and insert caramel sticks.

• Make the caramel or melt store-bought caramels. Allow caramel to cool a few minutes, then dip the apples, turning in a circular motion to coat the apples, allowing the caramel to drip off slightly.

• Roll in optional toppings, if desired.

• Place each apple on the prepared baking sheet. When all the apples are coated, place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to set up.

• If not eating right away, wrap caramel apples in cellophane and tie with a cute ribbon for traveling or gifting.

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The apples can be stored for eight to 10 days in the refrigerator. Bring them to room temperature, about 35 to 40 minutes, before enjoying.

Contact the writer: 636-0271.

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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