Apple pie caramels. I'll get to those. First though, the biggest takeaway from this trip - we need to go again. The smiles, the joy, the fact that not one minute felt stressful... it will be a memory I hold very close.
I love the flavor combination of apple and caramel. If you need the a good recipe for traditional caramel apples, mine doesn't slide down the apple and will leave you very satisfied.
What is Dollywood?
Dollywood is a theme park in the heart of the Smoky Mountains with something for everyone. It has the big roller coasters for thrill seekers, smaller rides and attractions for kids, games, plenty of food, and is very family friendly. Everyone who worked in the park was so kind and helpful and made you feel like you really are an important guest.
Okay, but what does it have to do with apple pie caramels?
I knew that a place amazing as Dollywood should have it's very own candy inspired by it. We sampled a lot of food in the park and the most eye catching was a 24 lb. apple pie, and immediately I knew it was my muse.
Where is Dollywood?
Dollywood is just shy of three hours from where I live in South Carolina. It's located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It was an easy road trip and can be done in a day if you don't want to stay overnight. My kids are on the younger side, so we opted to drive in the day before and stay at a hotel about ten minutes away from the park. The town surrounding the park has a ton of attractions and restaurants as well (it's like Myrtle Beach without the beach), and there would be plenty to do if you wanted to make a longer stay out of the trip.
Is Dollywood kid friendly?
We saw many, many families that brought in beach wagons for their kids along with coolers. I would definitely recommend packing a water bottle and refilling it during the day. The park is big and not flat - we did just over 8 miles during the day. There were a lot of spots for stroller / wagon parking at the base of rides, and many places to take a break if you needed one.
Our favorites rides at Dollywood:
We started out our morning in the county fair section. This had the most family friendly rides, with my kids being able to ride almost everything by themselves. If they couldn't ride it alone, they were allowed to ride it with someone aged 16 and older. Since this is the first time either one of them had experienced a theme park, it was a really good introduction to rides and to gauge their level of apprehension on them. They both loved everything! We were able to hop on rides right away. In fact, the longest wait we had all day was 10 minutes. We rode the flying elephants and Sky Rider the most, each of them five times.
Speaking of waiting... parent swap!
10/10 recommend this. If you and your partner have small children that cannot ride the larger roller coasters, you can all wait in the line together, then one parent will ride and swap with the other one when they come back. The park employees were so sweet and helpful when we told them we would like to do the parent swap on each roller coaster. They make it extremely easy and genuinely seem happy that you want to ride.
Our favorite food at Dollywood:
We had snacks and lunch in the park. Our first stop was for some kettle corn. They make it fresh in the park and my kids were asking for some as soon as they smelled it. It was perfectly balanced in sweet and salty, and the bag lasted about five minutes.
For lunch we ate at Dogs N Taters, choosing corn dogs, hot dogs, and curly fries. I'm pretty sure the corndog was over a foot long, and it was the best one I've ever had. The curly fries were decent, I'd probably skip them next time and go for another bag of kettle corn.
Spotlight Bakery and the apple pie caramels inspiration
This place was like the bakery of your childhood dreams. HUGE portions, colorfully icing, sprinkles galore. As soon as I spotted the 24 lb. apple pie I knew I wanted to do a candy inspired by it. Also, does anyone ever order it? I need to know.
Okay, okay, tell me about the apple pie caramels now.
Yes, this is delicious and worth it. You will need three days for this dessert. Each layer will need to set up overnight, and you'll need an extra day to cut and wrap the caramels. If you decide to make these, please read this blog post entirely. Ask me questions, I'm happy to help! There are two recipes on this page - one for caramel and one for nougat. "Jump to recipe" takes you to the caramel recipe.
- Day 1: Make sweet apple pie caramel
- Day 2: Make browned butter nougat
- Day 3: Cut and wrap candy.
Equipment for the apple pie caramels
- A thick bottomed, heavy duty pot. You'll use this for both the caramel making and nougat syrup. An 8 quart minimum size is needed.
- Candy thermometer. It's a deal breaker without one. Don't attempt. If your thermometer has seen better days, test it by taking the temperature of boiling water. It should be between 210-212F.
- 5 qt. planetary mixer. This is used when making the nougat layer.
- High heat spatula or wooden spoon for stirring. Regular spatulas are not meant to be used in temperatures this high and they could melt.
- 9 X 13 sheet pan with edges.
- Parchment paper
- Cooking spray
Ingredients for the apple pie caramels
Apple pie caramels
- Evaporated milk
- Brown Sugar
- Heavy cream
- Corn syrup
- Instant apple cinnamon oatmeal (I used the Quaker brand)
- Pumpkin pie spice
Browned Butter Nougat
- Corn Syrup
- Egg Whites
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Powdered Sugar
Day 1: Apple Pie Caramels
At the heart of this caramel is instant apple cinnamon oatmeal. Yes, the oatmeal in the little packs people eat for breakfast. Why? Instant oats are steam treated and will cook quickly, so you can add them at the very end of your caramel making and not worry about having insufficient cooking time. I use the apple cinnamon flavored variety because the flavor will stick around! (Side bar - if you are a food blogger and make apple crisp, try using these instead of regular oats next time. Thank me later)
Before you start adding your caramel ingredients to your pot, weigh them all out. Have them lined up and ready to go. The oatmeal will go in AFTER you reach your final temperature.
Day 2: Browned Butter Nougat
Browned butter steals the show in this nougat recipe. I follow instructions for browned butter from this recipe by Barley & Sage. She's an expert on browned butter and you'll never want to go back to regular butter again when cooking. Browning the butter will be your first step in making this nougat. Before you weigh any other ingredients out, brown the butter and set it aside. Then weigh out and line up all your other ingredients. It will make your nougat making a lot easier.
Day 3: Cut and wrap
You have to wait overnight to cut these after making the nougat because the nougat needs to set up and grain. "Graining" means that the sugar is absorbing all of the extra moisture and the texture is becoming short and tender. A short texture will allow the nougat to hold it's shape when cut instead of flowing out of place. It also keeps the bite very soft and easy to chew.
What size do I cut these apple pie caramels?
The size you cut these is personal preference. I cut them in to rectangles, 1" in width and 1.25" in length. To wrap them I use cello candy wrappers that are precut in size, but you can use parchment or wax paper that you cut at home. Cello candy wrappers can be found at any craft store that has a baking/candy making section, or on Amazon. Make sure they are at least 5" x 5" in size to allow enough space to wrap the candy.
Storage and shelf life
This candy should be kept at room temperature. It does not need to be refrigerated or frozen. It should be kept away from extreme heat. Shelf life is approximately two months.
Apple Pie Caramels
- high heat spatula or wooden spoon
- 12 x 17 " sheet pan with 1" sides
- 680 grams evaporated milk 2, 12 ounce cans
- 280 grams heavy cream
- 200 grams butter
- 380 grams white sugar
- 300 grams brown sugar
- 570 grams corn syrup
- 180 grams apple cinnamon instant oatmeal 3 packets
- Prepare the 12" x 17" sheet pan by lining it with parchment paper. Leave some parchment overhang so you can easily lift the caramel out when finished.
- In a heavy duty, thick bottomed pot, combine all ingredients EXCEPT for the instant oatmeal.
- Cook over medium heat while constantly stirring until butter melts and sugar dissolves.
- Increase heat to medium high for the remainder of cooking. You must stir the whole time.
- Cook until temperature reaches 240F. This takes approximately 40 minutes. 220-230F will take the longest, with the temperature going quickly between 230F and 240F.
- When you hit 240F, turn off the heat. Add the instant oatmeal and stir for one minute.
- Pour on prepared sheet pan. Spread into an even layer.
- Allow to cool to the touch (can still be warm, but hot piping hot). Cover with parchment paper and foil until ready to use. Do not refridgerate.
Browned Butter Cinnamon Nougat
- 5 qt. planetary mixer
- 12 x 17" sheet pan with apple pie caramel, or lined with lightly oiled parchment paper if making without the caramels
- medium sauce pan for melting and browning butter
- 226 grams unsalted butter
Egg White Meringue
- 2 large egg whites
- 100 grams corn syrup
- 580 grams white sugar
- 670 grams corn syrup
- 180 grams water
- 185 grams powdered sugar
- 5 grams cinnamon
- 3 grams salt
- Add the butter to a medium sauce pan and melt over medium heat.
- Once melted, stir frequently and watch closely for the formation of brown specs on the bottom of the pan.
- Once you see the brown specs, remove from the heat and pour into a separate heat proof bowl. Scrape bottom of the pan to get all the brown specs. Side aside.
Egg White Meringue
- In a 5 quart planetary mixer bowl, combine egg whites and corn syrup. Mix until combined but to do not start mixing. Have the bowl on the mixer stand ready to go.
- Weight out your powdered sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Mix them together and set them aside near your mixing bowl.
Syrup Slurry & Nougat Making
- In a thick bottomed, heavy duty pan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water.
- Cook over high heat until syrup reaches 234F. When syrup reaches 234F, turn your mixture on high and begin whipping egg whites. Don't stop cooking.
- Cook until syrup reaches 252F. Turn off heat.
- Slowly stream hot syrup into whipping egg whites. This needs to be done slowly so you do not collapse the egg white meringue.
- Once all the syrup is added, continue whipping on high for four minutes.
- After four minutes, turn mixer to low and add in powdered sugar/cinnamon/salt mix.
- Add in browned butter. Mix on high for 30 seconds to incorporate all ingredients. Turn off mixer.
- Layer nougat directly on top of apple pie caramels. Let nougat cool to touch. Cover with a lightly greased piece of parchment paper and let rest overnight.
Cutting & Wrapping
- Cut into desired size. Wrap using cello candy wrappers, parchment paper, or wax paper. Store in an airtight container. Candy does not need to be refridgerated.