This recipe for homemade caramel apple dip uses just 4 ingredients, takes 15 minutes, and tastes WAY better than store-bought dips. Use the original or the lower-sugar version and make a fall apple tasting tradition with this dip and different apple varieties - your family will look forward to it every year!
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When my daughter was in third grade (a long time ago now...), I was asked to bring apples and caramel dip to their Halloween party. I bought the stuff from the store because I thought you couldn't bring homemade things to schools (we were new and I guess it's not such a big deal in rural schools- there were homemade pies!).
But I couldn't believe how, well, terrible it was.
Sorry to those of you who like it! But there's really a weird aftertaste, and of course that long list of ingredients, not many of which I recognized as food.
I still wanted to have a caramel dip to use with all the amazing apple varieties I was finding, so I searched for a homemade caramel apple dip I could make that would taste great.
After a couple of tries (too runny, too sticky, even cream cheese - what?) I found a recipe in a cookbook put out by a church or something I had that seemed like it may work.
Except for the fact that it called for corn syrup and I don't buy that anymore. So I substituted honey and it worked just as well - or should I say better?
We had a keeper!
Seriously, you are not going to believe how good this caramel apple dip is - and super easy to boot!
UPDATE: I've successfully created a lower sugar version of this favorite family recipe and no one could tell! It's the only way I make it now, still using the steps outlined below and the lower sugar options in the recipe card.
Homemade Caramel Apple Dip Recipe
Isn't that a great picture? Four ingredients, butter, sugar, honey, sweetened condensed milk - nothing weird.
Yes, it's still a lot of sugar, which is the reason I worked to lessen the sugar in the lower sugar option.
But then again, it is a treat we have only 1-2 times a year.
Sweetened Condensed Milk: Back when I started the cursed "reading of the labels" and found I had to stop buying a lot of things we liked, I was pleasantly surprised to find that sweetened condensed milk is just whole milk and sugar. For me that works.
For those of you that are not wanting to buy any convenience foods there is a recipe for making your own sweetened condensed milk here which I've done in the past and found it worked well.
Brown Sugar: Did you know that not all brown sugar is created equal?
I've read numerous times that all brown sugar is "just white sugar with molasses added." While that's true of the cheap store brands consisting of beet sugar, C&H is pure cane brown sugar with this description on the package:
Some brands of brown sugar aren't naturally brown at all, they're white sugar sprayed with a coating of molasses. C&H Golden Brown Sugar 100% Pre Cane Sugar and naturally brown through and through is the real thing, with the rich, nutty caramel flavor you want from a real brown sugar.
There was a comparison done in the Oregonian newspaper years ago that showed differences in baking the same products with cane sugar vs. beet sugar, and since then I've always bought cane sugar. I can't find a link to that old article, but this one from a San Francisco newspaper explains it, too.
So if a recipe you're making isn't working out, it could be the type of sugar you're using!
The recipe is pretty simple, but can be a bit tricky:
- Start by melting the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy saucepan.
- Then add the brown sugar, honey, and sweetened condensed milk.
3. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (very important- don't try to do something else at the same time!).
4. Lower heat to medium and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly, especially at the edges to keep from sticking.
Important Note: This takes a few minutes, and occasionally you may get a few flecks of brown from the bottom, but it's not a burned flavor and still tastes fine.
What To Do If It Does Actually Burn
That "don’t do anything else but stir" is sometimes hard for me as a multi-tasker, which was fairly obvious since I had written in big letters on my recipe, “BURNS EASILY.”
Which is why I discovered this trick for saving most of the dip if that happens:
- Remove the pan from the burner and quickly pour the dip into a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl, but DO NOT scrape the bottom of the pan. Just leave all that crusty burnt stuff for the trash.
- Push the caramel through the strainer with a wooden spoon, leaving any browned bits in the strainer. There may be a few small brown flecks in the dip, but it doesn't taste burned when eating, I promise.
This totally works to save the dip and we can all deal with a few flecks, can't we?
When the time is up, remove the dip from the heat and let cool a bit before pouring into a serving bowl.
You'll want to serve this warm, since it does harden a bit when refrigerated.
It keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge (though not in our house, a-hem), simply microwave it for a few seconds to soften before using.
I pour our caramel dip into a glass storage bowl, serve, and then simply pop the lid on to store in the refrigerator. See similar round glass storage bowls here.
Lower Sugar Caramel Apple Dip Version
As I've been experimenting with using less sugar in many of our tried and true recipes as we work to cut down on sugar in our diet, I've discovered that you can generally cut the sugar content without noticing.
We've also noticed that the less sugar we eat, the more things we used to like taste too sweet to us now. It's shown us that you really can retrain your mind and tastebuds!
Anyway, cutting the sugar totally worked with this homemade caramel dip, too - it's just as amazing as the original and I learned a good lesson: we can be satisfied with less sugar while still enjoying treats.
How much sugar did I remove?
It seemed to be the same dip we knew and loved, so I served it to my family. And guess what?
No one noticed a difference.
I had to tell them and they still couldn't tell (though I thought the dip wasn't quite as creamy, which didn't bother me).
This just illustrates what I'm learning more and more through my experiments to lessen the sugar in some of our favorite recipes - it's easy, and most of the time we can't.tell.a.difference. It's worth it!
Though try both versions in the recipe card below and decide what you'd like!
Here are a few comments from readers who've tried the lower sugar version:
"I tried this with the less sugar and loved it!! Thank you for sharing this less sugar recipe." -Roxanne
"OH MY GOODNESS!!!! I am always looking for ways to make delicious treats healthier. This was awesome with less sugar. I also used fat free cond milk. Worked great. Was thick and creamy and caramely. Thank you." -Shelly
"I made this recipe this evening and it was a hit. We used the honey and brown sugar and my boys ate it right up. I loved that I had all of the ingredients in the cupboard. Thank you." -Jennifer
Fall Apple Tasting Tradition with Caramel Apple Dip
One of our family's favorite traditions that developed at our house after making this recipe is our annual Fall Apple Tasting Night.
We've invited guests to our tastings, too, and it's really fun for a group!
How to have your own Fall Apple Tasting Night:
- Buy four or five different apples.
- Cut the apples into slices and put them out on small individual plates.
- Write the name of the apple variety on a piece of paper or print them out to set on the plate.
- Serve with small individual bowls of caramel dip.
While the labels may sound all Martha-Stewart-ish, the tasting doesn't work without the labels - you need to know the different varieties to discuss which everyone likes best.
You can see we simply write the variety on a slip of paper - no need for anything fancier unless that's your thing.
We used to just spoon the caramel onto our plates and dip our apples in it, but then I found these small 1/8-cup bowls and they work much better.
It's easier to get every last bit.
And trust me, you're going to want to get every last bit.
Caramel Apple Dip FAQs
I've never used this that way, though it does become very stiff when refrigerated, so it might work. They'd need to be kept cold, though.
It usually lasts a week before it's gone at our house, though I'm sure it would last a few weeks to a month if you don't eat it as fast as we do.
No, a reader tried and reported that the "texture (and taste) were wrong--grainy and runny, not carmely."
Yes! You will have to have instructions attached to heat and stir it a bit before serving.
It's similar, but you lose the butter which really gives it that caramel taste we all know and love.
Recipes To Pair With Caramel Apple Dip
- Crumb-Topped Apple Pie - drizzle warmed caramel on top.
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Cups - use the caramel instead of the chocolate sauce as a topping,
- No-Churn Ice Cream - use as topping (leave out chocolate for a vanilla version).
- Easy Apple Crumble Recipe (with Big Crumb Topping) - drizzle on top before serving.
Homemade Caramel Apple Dip (+ Lower Sugar Version)
- 1/2 cup butter (Lower sugar: 1/3 cup)
- 1 cup brown sugar (Lower sugar: 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 cup honey (Lower sugar: 1/4 cup)
- 1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk (Lower sugar: same)
- Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.
- Add the remaining ingredients, raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (will take 5-10 minutes).
- Lower heat to medium or medium-low (you want to keep a very low boil) and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly (really- this is not the thing to walk away from! It will burn...I know from experience!).*
- Remove from heat, let cool a bit and then pour into a serving bowl and serve warm.
- Refrigerate any leftovers. Microwave a few seconds to soften before using again.
- Remove the pan from the burner and quickly pour the dip into a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl, but DO NOT scrape the bottom. Just leave all that crusty burnt stuff.
- Push caramel through the strainer, leaving any browned bits in strainer. There may be a few small brown flecks in the dip, but it doesn't taste burned when eating.
- Ice cream topping
- Apple pie topping
- Dip for graham crackers
- Layer in a chocolate bar cookie
This recipe has been updated - it was originally published October 2009.
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