Vegan caramel apples without dairy or coconut milk! Some caramel sauce will just side off your apple or others will be so tough that it hurts your teeth. This vegan caramel recipe is thick and sticky enough to coat your apples yet still soft and chewy. Best of all, since it's not made with coconut milk like many vegan caramels, it has the classic taste that you expect from a traditional caramel apple.
Caramel is something I thought I may never be able to eat again after going vegan. I wasn't sure how to make caramel or if it was even possible without dairy, but I was determined to try!
After years of living without caramel, I came across a vegan caramel recipe in a magazine. It called for coconut milk instead of dairy. I was so excited that I made it that same day. I thought it was delicious, but it definitely had a coconut flavor and not the normal caramel flavor that I remembered. My son who hates coconut wouldn't touch it. It seemed like there had to be another way to get the right consistency and flavor.
🥛 What to use instead of dairy?
After much trial and error, I discovered that refined coconut oil and soy milk work great as a replacement for dairy or coconut milk. If you use refined coconut oil, it doesn’t have the flavor of coconut, and the soy milk gives it the right consistency. I use this basic caramel recipe for my vegan salted caramel sauce too.
🧾 Ingredients and substitutions
- Sugar - any vegan granulated sugar will work. You will be able to see the color change easier in the lighter color sugars.
- Water - to give your sugar some moisture so you can cook it and caramelize it.
- Oil - for a rich and creamy texture. Any neutral-flavored oil will work. I prefer refined coconut oil for the richest and most neutral taste.
- Plant Milk - any will work, but I like soy milk since it has a rich and creamy dairy-like taste.
- Cream of Tartar - or lemon juice. For acidity to help your sugar stay smooth and not crystallize.
- Apples - to coat in the caramel.
🔪 Helpful tools
- A heavy bottomed pot to make sure that the sugar cooks evenly.
- Start with a clean medium-sized saucepan and add the sugar and water and cream of tartar.
- Heat on medium bringing the sugar water will start to boil. (Don’t stir. Just pick up the saucepan and swish around the sugar if needed).
- Watch the sugar mixture closely! After it boils for about 6-8 minutes, it will start to get slightly darker and smell like caramel.
- Boil for about 10-20 more seconds to let it turn a medium brown color (this color change will be slight when using vegan unbleached sugar).
- Remove from heat and immediately add coconut oil and stir with a metal whisk for a few seconds.
- Add the soy milk and continue to stir until smooth and everything is well mixed. (It will bubble up and may spatter, so be careful)!
- Allow cooling to room temperature.
- While it's cooling, prepare your apples by washing and drying them. Then remove the stems and insert a stick into the top.
- Line a tray with parchment paper to set the apples on after they have been dipped.
- Reheat the caramel sauce until it is the right consistency for dipping apples. (If your caramel is thin, let it boil again for about 30 seconds. If it is too thick add a teaspoon or two of soy milk and reheat and stir until it's a sticky sauce.
- Dip the apples in the caramel. Let the excess drip off and place on the parchment-lined tray.
- Allow cooling in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. They will come off the paper easily once they have cooled completely.
📝 Recipe Notes
- I have found that if you let the caramel sauce cool slightly and then heat on low again and let it bubble for about 30 seconds, it makes it stickier and a just the right consistency for making caramel apples.
- Caramel is tricky! Nearly every recipe on my blog is easy and can be done by someone relatively inexperienced in the kitchen, however, caramel is more of an exact science. If you want easier ways to make a caramel-style dip for apples, use my peanut butter caramel recipe or my vegan butterscotch recipe.
- You must watch it carefully. It goes from sugar to caramel to a burnt mess in a matter of about 30 seconds. Just know that you may have to throw out your first attempt, but once you get it right, it becomes easy.
👩🏻🍳 Pro tips
- Every time I made vegan caramel it would come out differently and many times it would seem perfect while still warm, but then get gritty and start to crystallize when it cooled. So, I learned to add a pinch of cream of tartar to keep the sugar smooth.
- I also learned the hard way to have the coconut oil and soy milk measured and waiting to pour into the sugar mixture the second it caramelizes. Adding oil and milk reduces the temperature and keeps it from burning. It the few seconds that it would take you to find and measure the oil and soy milk, your sugar will burn!
- When using vegan sugar, it is already slightly brown, so you will not see a big color change. Go by smell more than color. ( It will start to smell like caramel or even slightly burnt sugar).
- Add the oil first, give it a little stir with a whisk and then add the milk. This will cool it down a little and it won't spatter as much once you add the soy milk. When you do add the milk, it will still bubble up and may spatter a little, so use a long-handled whisk to stir and stand back. (Make sure children are back and out of your way)!
- If your sauce is too runny you can heat it again on low for about 30-60 seconds to evaporate some liquid out of it and firm it up. (But don't let it burn)!
Keep the caramel apples in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can store them on the counter top in a cool dry place for about 24 hours, but the caramel may start to run off of them if they get too hot.
Allow to warm to room temperature before serving or the caramel will be very hard.
🌟 More fall recipes
- Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Vegan Salted Caramel Frosting.
- Pumpkin Bean Soup
- Vegan Pumpkin Bread with homemade Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
- Red Lentil Soup with Pumpkin and Kale
- Vegan Apple Crisp
- Vegan Apple Cake
📌 Be sure to follow me on Pinterest for new vegan recipes!
Vegan Caramel Apples
- A heavy pot
For the Caramel Apples:
- 4 apples
- 4 popsicle sticks
To make the caramel:
- Start with a clean medium-sized saucepan and add the sugar, water and cream of tartar.
- Turn the heat on to medium. The sugar water will start to boil. Don’t stir, just pick up the saucepan and swish around the sugar if needed.
- Watch the sugar mixture closely! After it boils for about 6-8 minutes, it will start to get slightly darker and smell like caramel. At this point let it boil for about 10-20 more seconds to let it turn a medium brown color (this color change will be slight when using vegan unbleached sugar).
- Remove from heat and immediately add coconut oil and stir with a long-handled metal whisk for a few seconds.
- Add the soy milk (It will bubble up and may spatter, so be careful)! Continue to stir until smooth and everything is well mixed. Then allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
- Reheat the caramel sauce until it begins to bubble and allow it to bubble on low heat for 45 seconds.
- Allow it to cool for about 10 minutes until it starts to slightly firm up and get sticky.
To coat the apples in the caramel sauce:
- While your caramel is cooling, take out the apple stem, then wash and dry the apples well. Place a popsicle stick in the top of each apple.
- Cover a tray or cookie sheet with parchment paper to put the apples on after they are dipped in caramel.
- Once your caramel is a thick, sticky consistency, roll the apples in the caramel, coating the whole apple. (You can use a spoon to help you coat the apple completely).
- Allow to drip for a few seconds and then place it on the parchment paper.
- Put the tray of apples in the fridge to cool completely. (They will easily come off of the parchment paper once cool).
- Watch the caramel closely as it's cooking, don't walk away from it!
- You will know your caramel is done cooking when it smells like caramel. The smell is as important as the color change in determining when to remove it from the stove.
- Make sure to remove it from the burner completely before adding the oil and soy milk. Don't just turn off the heat.
- If your caramel starts to get too thick add a few drops of water or soy milk and reheat it until you get a smooth consistency.
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