Remove apple stems, rinse the apples under very hot water for a few seconds, then scrub dry with a paper towel to help remove the wax around the apple. If possible, place the apples in the refrigerator for several hours or days in advance so they are well chilled before dipping.
Insert the craft sticks vertically into the apples. Line a pan with parchment paper and place the apples on it. Make space in your fridge to fit the pan. Add all of your toppings to plates or shallow bowls so they are ready to go. (If adding melted chocolate and then toppings, wait for the caramel to set on the apples before dipping them in melted chocolate).
Make homemade caramel (this will take approximately 70 minutes), or melt store-bought pre-wrapped caramels (wrapper removed) in a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons of milk. Melt over medium heat until smooth. (See notes.)
Allow the caramel too cool for 3-5 minutes before dipping the apples. If it's too hot it will slide off the apples more easily.
Holding an apple by the stick, dip it into the caramel, gently swirling it around to coat all sides. Lift up and continue to swirl it as you allow any excess caramel to drip off. Place on parchment paper lined pan. Work carefully and quickly to dip all of the apples, and immediately add toppings, if desired.
Repeat with remaining apples. Store dipped apples immediately in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Store-bought caramels: A 14 oz. bag of pre-wrapped caramels will make about 5 caramel apples. Unwrap the caramels and melt them in a saucepan with 2 Tbs. milk.
Be careful not to load them with too many toppings or the coating around the apple will become too heavy and may slide off.Apple Pie Caramel Apple: melted white chocolate sprinkled with a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon.Oreo Caramel Apple: crushed Oreos on the warm caramel, or on melted milk chocolate or white chocolate smoothed over the caramel apples and then topped with crushed Oreos.Candy Bar Caramel Apples: Add crushed candy bars to the caramel apples, like Reese's peanut butter cups, butterfingers, m&m's, heath bars, mini chocolate chips or snickers.