Unlike their gooey, caramel candy-coated cousins, balanced atop sticks at county fairs, caramelized apples deliver mouth-watering toasty flavor without pulling out a filling. When cooked just right, the sugar in the apples undergoes a chemical reaction that turns a golden brown and produces a plethora of pleasing flavors. With a few ingredients, you can make caramelized apples at home on the stove in just a few minutes.
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Best Cooking Apples
When caramelizing apples, look for a firm variety with some crispness and tartness. Granny Smith, with its tart flavor and crispy texture, works well when caramelizing, although some may find this varietal too crunchy. The McIntosh cooks down to a softer, more mellow bite, making it perfect to pair with Grannies. Both hold up well under heat and offer a tantalizing duo of sweet and tart. Stay away from Red Delicious as they are too soft to hold up under heat.
Use a Heavy Nonstick Skillet
Use a heavy, nonstick skillet for caramelizing fruits and vegetables, such as apples and onions. As the sugars melt and change chemically, they create a sticky surface coating that can burn if left over heat too long. A nonstick skillet, such as a cast-iron fry pan, cooks the apples over an even temperature and prevents the sugars from sticking, offering up a perfect combination of tender apples and golden caramelization.
Caramelization and Cooking
During the heating process, the water in both the fructose in the apple and the sucrose added during cooking evaporates and the sugar crystals change. The change is called caramelization, and it is what gives the apples a toasty, brown color and nutlike flavor.
After slicing or cubing apples, melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. If cooking on cast iron, allow the pan to preheat before adding butter. Add granulated sugar and stir until the sugar is melted, about a minute. Add apples and saute gently until the apples begin to brown and release their juices, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve, or reheat later. Store at room temperature for up to 3 hours or refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Serving Caramelized Apples
Caramelized apples are delicious served by themselves or under a dollop of whipped cream. If you want to get creative, serve them warm over ice cream; drizzle them with warm caramel sauce, and serve them atop cake or cooked pie; or snuggle them inside a hot crepe blanket, slathered with some maple syrup.