Quick and Healthy Homemade Caramel Apples

Date and nut butter “caramel.” Toasted seed, nut, and dried fruit "sprinkles.” These good-for-you, dairy-free treats are totally delicious, and you don't need a candy thermometer to make them.

Cooler temperatures, shorter days, and jack-o'-lanterns perched on front doorsteps: Ahh, it’s finally fall. While the country seems to celebrate with pumpkin spice everything, my favorite fall flavor is apple anything: apple cider, apple pie, and most of all, caramel apples. But while I've always looked forward to the sticky treats especially at the county fair near my home in Charleston, South Carolina these days I try to go for snacks my dentist might approve of. Plus, I like to save any empty calories for the candy I “borrow” from my 4-year-old’s Halloween stash.

To satisfy my craving and my healthy leanings, I’ve created two caramel-apple alternatives that I can feel good about indulging in and serving to my family.

Both recipes happen to be dairy-free (and vegan for those who are okay eating honey) and they just take a few minutes to put together.

Mango, Raspberry, and Coconut Caramel Apples

Mango, Raspberry, and Coconut Caramel Apples

The "caramel sauce" coating for this recipe is simply almond butter blended with honey. For a big pop of color and sweet-tart flavor, I roll them in freeze-dried raspberries, dried mango, and flaked coconut. You can pick up the popsicle sticks for the handles at a grocery store or craft store. Set the coated apples on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or wax paper to catch any drips.

Mango, Raspberry, and Coconut Caramel Apples get a smear of almond butter and honey, then a coating of fruit

Mexican Chocolate Caramel Apples

Mexican Chocolate Caramel Apples

This next recipe features a luscious spread that mimics the flavor of caramel, but it’s made by whirling up Medjool dates, almond milk, vanilla extract, and a touch of salt in a food processor. After smearing that on the apples, I give them a dunk in melted bittersweet chocolate. Then I add a sprinkling of cinnamon, roasted almonds, and pumpkin seeds for more of the flavors that typically go into traditional Mexican chocolate. Cinnamon stick handles complete the theme. These caramel apples can almost convince me I'm eating a candy bar.

Best Apples for Caramel Apples

Gone are the days of only having three apple choices at the grocery store. To customize these treats, I like to try different varieties. Crispin are a great green alternative to Granny Smith. They're sweet, super crisp, and ideal for the Mexican chocolate apples. For the almond butter-coated recipe, I really love Royal Gala and Ambrosia apples as an alternative to Red Delicious. Royal Galas are juicy, crisp, and very sweet, perfect with the tangy mangoes and raspberries. Ambrosia apples are a great choice, too; their slight honey flavor and floral aroma make them a good match for the fruit toppings.

Whether you're looking for caramel apples with less refined sugar and no dairy, or you just want to try something new, give these twists on the autumn treat a try. They’re just as delicious as the traditional type, and are sure to make friends and family (and dentists!) happy.