Judge Caramel Apples By These 5 Core Principles

Nothing compares to the satisfaction of sitting down at a bar and finding purse hooks installed underneath, or realizing that your new apartment has outlets exactly where you want your TV and lamps to go. It's the joy of any design that has carefully considered the user experience—and that same joy can be found in a well-constructed dessert.

Now that it's autumn, there's a rash of seasonal confections clogging the shelves—caramel apples chief among them. These treats are a masterclass in form and function, and unlike so much trick-or-treat candy, most parents will acquiesce to a three-pack of these being tossed into the grocery cart. So while everyone else dedicates the next six weeks to the Candy Corn Wars, please join me over here on this hay bale as I unpack the attributes of a superior taffy apple. And forgive me, if you will, for referring to these attributes collectively as my "Peckdel test."

Rule 1: It must actually be a caramel apple

This is a discussion of caramel/taffy apples, not candy apples. Candy apples have a hard sugar coating. We're talking instead about apples covered in soft, yielding caramel. As will soon be evident, candy apples fail the Peckdel test by every metric.


Rule 2: The first bite should be as easy as the last

You want your teeth to really sink into a taffy apple. The caramel is like the velvet curtain between you and center stage, exciting and welcoming and easy to pass through. You don't deserve stiff, waxy caramel or a tough, underripe apple. You probably only eat one or two per year, so make sure you treat yourself right. One reliable trick: Go for the midsize apple.


Rule 3: The apple must be of reasonable size

More is not always better, and when you're dealing with a snack on a stick, weight becomes as important a consideration as it was for the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. If you need two hands to secure the apple as you eat, then it has failed you as a portable treat and consequently loses the festival spirit that made it a fun indulgence in the first place. You don't want the whole thing sliding down the stick toward your hand as you struggle to make your way through a gigantic apple that would be hard to polish off on its own, much less caked in a heap of bells and whistles. And about those bells and whistles....


Rule 4: It must taste, first and foremost, apple-y

It doesn't matter if the confectioner has opted for red or green apples (both are delicious), but you should absolutely be able to tell which kind you're eating upon first bite. The outside coating should just be a complement to the apple flavor within; the apple should not, by any means, be a mere vehicle for whatever envelops it. I can think of no bigger autumnal bummer than when I see a ludicrously large, M&M-studded, chocolate-chip-sprinkled, chocolate-drizzle-drenched caramel apple being stripped of its purely ornamental stick and sliced into thin wedges for a group of 25 to enjoy. (See photo at right.) The caramel apple should be a self-contained, single-serve treat: no sharing, no stomachache. It's fully your own to have and to hold from start to finish, and digestively, you're only slightly worse off than if you ate an apple straight from the produce aisle. Besides, when chocolate and fruit come together, the fruit is too often treated like an afterthought. It should be the star of the show, arriving on shelves squarely during picking season.


Rule 5: You should miss it when it’s gone

This rule embodies the full synthesis of size, weight, sweetness, and topping ratio. The perfect taffy apple, the one that passes the Peckdel test with flying colors, leaves you licking that last little trail of caramel on the stick, already thinking about next year's purchase. You're not too stuffed, because (in the case of an ideal caramel apple) it was only an apple, really. Just a modest apple, and a few nuts. A modest apple, some nuts, and 20 little ol' grams of sugar, which is still only half a can of soda, and with a lot more fiber besides.


We're at the on-ramp to three solid months of seasonal candies, Halloween minis already intermingling with Christmas sweets in CVS displays nationwide. And while there will be plenty of time in the weeks ahead to pick our way through it all, there are only so many days in which to celebrate this humble confection by the bushel. Or the peck.