For thousands of years, fruits of all kinds have been “candied,” primarily for preservation purposes. During the renaissance, it was very popular to candy both orange peel and gingerroot. This made them palatable to children and adults, but also made it possible to keep them for long periods of time and also to ship them over long distances. The process of making hard candy is also thousands of years old. Almost from the moment that man was able to put sugar over fire, did he discover the process of candy making. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century, however, when a New Jersey candy maker by the name of William Kolb made his first candied apple. This combination of hard candy making technique and preservation of an apple presented on a stick immediately caught on, and soon candied apples were found all over the New Jersey board walks. The phenomenon spread across the country, then around the world.
The science behind a candied apple uses the same functions and chemistry in any hard candy making process. The chemistry behind sugar and the heating of sugar is all about exact temperature. In any cookbook that has candy recipes, you will find references to things like “softball stage,” “soft crack stage” and “hard crack stage.” These are all references to a heated sugar solutions reaction to different specific temperatures that it can reach. The higher the temperature a sugar mixture reaches, the harder and less pliable it will be when it cools back to room temperature. This is because, as a sugar crystal heats up, the structure of the crystal comes more and more undone, almost like a sweater being unwoven. When the mixture cools, the sugar recrystalizes, but in a much more uniform and solid structure. So, it stands to reason that if a sugar solution is heated to a temperature that is higher, more of the crystals will come undone, and the structure it forms when it cools again will be harder. This is how hard candy is made, and the temperature range in candy making terms is called “hard crack.” Once the candy maker has a solution at “hard crack” stage, apples on sticks are dipped into the solution and set aside to cool. This will form a hard, candy coating on the outside of the apple.
Candied apples, and derivatives thereof can be found all over the world. While the first candied apple is said to have been created in America, the candied apple, proper, is not as popular in the U.S. now as it is in Germany. The caramel apple, which is made in a similar way, is much more popular in North America. In England, candied apples are made, but are called “jellied apples” or “toffee apples.” Candied apples are also popular in South America, where they are also made and sold primarily during the Christmas season. The candy coating given to most candied apples is often flavored and colored red, to accentuate the red skin of the apple. Cinnamon is often paired with apple, and it has become the flavor of choice for most candied apples.
Different areas of the world regard the candied apple as a signifier of different seasons and holidays. In Germany, candied apples are sold around the Christmas season, whereas in the U.S. candied and caramel apples are more synonymous with Halloween, autumn and harvest time in general. It is typical to see a candied apple or two in the Halloween basket of an American child, where in Germany one might be found stuffed into a child’s stocking hanging by the fireplace. The reason for the earlier time frame of the American candied apple is due to its tie in with the apple harvest in the North Eastern parts of the U.S. Like the Thanksgiving feast, many Americans see the candied apple as an embellishment of the fruits of the harvest from the fall. In Europe, there is not the same kind of massive apple harvest as there is here, making the cinnamon flavored, bright red apple more of a symbol of the shiny, red bulbs that decorate the Christmas trees around the world.
If you have never had a candied apple before, be careful the first time you bite into one. Many people who innocently pick up a candied apple on a board walk or in a candy store expect the same texture and give as a caramel apple. This is not the case. If you bite into it with too much vigor, you may seriously damage your teeth and gums. The candy coating around the apple is HARD candy, after all. This is not to say that the candy must be removed and eaten separately from the apple, itself, but a little caution in your approach will make for a much more satisfying candied apple experience.