If you’re looking for a delicious and dairy-free fall treat, you have to try these homemade dairy free caramel apple suckers! They are easy to make and are a great allergy-friendly alternative to the Tootsie brand Caramel Apple Pops for Halloween or a sweet treat any time of year.
As a teen, one of my favorite fall treats was the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops that were first released back in 1995. They quickly became a favorite candy of mine (when I could find them) and I missed them when I started having to get more strict about cutting dairy out of my diet.
Fast forward to this year, my daughter thought up with this idea for creating our own allergy-friendly caramel apple suckers using Jolly Ranchers candy. She loves the caramel apple pops from the Tootsie company but also needs to stay away from dairy, so she thought up a way to make our own easy and dairy free version.
This isn’t the first DIY we’ve made using melted candies (we’ve used them as gingerbread house windows and candy bowls), but this is the first recipe for eating that we’ve made with Jolly Ranchers and it turned out so fun (and yummy).
Food allergy notes:
- Dairy free
- Vegan and egg free
- Peanut free
- Depending on the brand of dairy free butter you use this can also be tree nut free
Why you’ll love this recipe
Our recipe for dairy free caramel apple pops is pretty easy to make and doesn’t require tons of active time in the kitchen, and you won’t need a candy thermometer!
This is a fun way to still have caramel apple pops if you have food allergies, and it comes together in less than 30 minutes as well (not including final cooling and setting time).
Caramel apple lollipops are a great treat any time of year, but they make great homemade, allergy-friendly fall or Halloween treats!
How to make dairy free caramel apple suckers
Make the green apple pops
If you don’t know how to do candy making, no worries, because this part of the recipe doesn’t require making your own candy from scratch!
Here are the steps to make the green apple part of the suckers (this is just an overview, the full recipe is at the end of the post):
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Arrange 2 green apple Jolly Rancher candies next to each other in 5 pairs spaced evenly across the baking sheet.
- Bake at 325 degrees F until just melted, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Once just melted into a candy puddle (but not spread thin and bubbled), add a lollipop stick into the candy immediately. The candy will cool and set quickly, so you need to add the sticks right after removing them from the oven.
- Repeat with a second pan to make 10 suckers.
- While the suckers are cooling and setting, make the caramel.
Make sure to keep an eye on the candy and not let it melt too hot or too long or it will start to bubble, like in the photo below. A few small bubbles on the edge aren’t too bad, if you get a few bubbles, use a toothpick to smooth them out as best you can right away before the candy cools and sets.
As soon as the candy melts into a small puddle, remove it from the oven. At 325 degrees F, it should only take about 4-5 minutes. Start with 3 minutes and add a minute until it has melted.
Make the dairy free caramel
This thick dairy free caramel is the same caramel we use on our real caramel apples and it is pretty easy to make and cover apples or suckers with!
Here are the steps to make this caramel. This is just an overview of the steps, the full recipe is at the end of the post:
- While the melted Jolly Ranchers candy is cooling, make the caramel by melting 1/3 cup dairy free butter in a heavy-bottom 1-quart saucepan.
- Once the dairy free butter is melted, whisk in the sugar (either white, brown, or a mix of both), corn syrup, coconut milk, and a dash of salt.
- Simmer over medium-low heat for 7 minutes, whisking regularly (avoiding scraping down the sides of the pan).
- Once 7 minutes are over, turn off the heat and whisk in the vanilla.
- Remove the whisk and allow the caramel to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes until it has thickened and will stick to the suckers and stay on, but is still warm enough to spread over the suckers.
- Coat the suckers with a light layer of caramel and place them back on the parchment paper to cool completely and set up.
- Store on parchment paper in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature.
To get a darker brown colored caramel, I used brown sugar instead of the white sugar we normally use for our caramel apples since this particular caramel recipe doesn’t get very dark without brown sugar or dark corn syrup.
I’ve added more notes about a few different ways to adjust the caramel below, including the color!
Just a heads up that this caramel does not seem to reheat well on the stovetop. It does seem to do well heated very briefly (about 10 to 20 seconds) in the microwave (use a heat-proof glass container or jar).
I’ve tried reheating this caramel in the pan again once it cooled too much to continue drizzling on the suckers, but the butter in it separates and then it seizes up and gets very hard once it cools.
So if this caramel gets too cool to drizzle or coat things, opt to warm it slightly in the microwave and not the stove. Then stir it and let it cool again just to where it’s thick enough to stick to the sucker but still warm enough to pour.
Dairy free caramel variations for these caramel apple lollipops
When I was testing this recipe, I played with a few variations of caramel for this recipe:
- Softer caramel (made with 3 Tablespoons of coconut milk)
- Firmer, thicker caramel (made with 2 Tablespoons of coconut milk)
- Light-colored caramel made with all white sugar, darker-colored caramel made with all brown sugar, or a mix of both (50/50) for an in-between color.
Soft vs firm caramel
If you like a softer caramel covering on the green apple sucker, you can use the recipe as I’ve written it in the recipe card with 3 Tablespoons of canned coconut milk.
If you’d like a more firm caramel that sets up faster, you can reduce the coconut milk by 1 Tablespoon. If you reduce the coconut milk, the caramel will set up faster so you’ll need to let this cool only about 10 to 15 minutes before you start coating your lollipops.
You’ll need to work quickly with this one since it will set up much faster.
With the softer caramel, you’ll need to wait a little longer for the caramel to cool before adding on top of the suckers. I ended up waiting about 15 to 20 minutes for the caramel to cool where it was still warm for coating but cool enough to create a good layer and not just come off the sucker.
With either caramel you decide to make, stir the caramel regularly as it cools to check on the thickness to make sure you don’t miss the ideal window for covering your pops.
Lighter vs darker caramel
Our original recipe for the thick caramel for our apples used just white sugar, but it is pretty light colored, so if you want a darker caramel color, you can use all brown sugar or 50/50 white and brown sugar.
All of those sugar variations work for the suckers, I’ve tested them all, so you can choose which you prefer. The brown sugar also adds a richer flavor as well, so I like using all brown sugar or a 50/50 mix of brown and white.
Some of my readers have mentioned to me that they’ve used dark corn syrup instead of regular light corn syrup to add a darker color to our easy caramel recipes.
Out of the several variations I made for this recipe, I prefer the all-brown sugar caramel that’s made firm with 2 Tablespoons of coconut milk instead of 3. It sets up faster and doesn’t spread as much, and it doesn’t stick to things as much so it’s easier to store.
Why is there corn syrup in this recipe?
One of the most common questions we get for our recipe for caramel apples is how to replace the corn syrup or not use it (or why it’s there to begin with).
Since this is a quick/easy method of making caramel, there is a greater chance of the sugar crystals forming again in the caramel and becoming grainy. The corn syrup helps to prevent sugar crystals in this recipe while dipping your candy (I have found the leftover caramel after dipping can still crystalize).
The Karo corn syrup we use is just regular corn syrup and not high fructose corn syrup. But it can still be a hurdle for people with corn allergies. But we have a solution!
If you want a caramel recipe that doesn’t use corn syrup, you can use our dairy free wet method caramel that does not use corn syrup but instead uses cream of tartar and a different cooking method to help prevent sugar crystals.
With the wet method caramel, you’ll just need to reduce the canned coconut milk you’re using to make it thicker for coating the suckers.
Pin for later!
Dairy Free Caramel Apple Suckers
- 20 pieces green apple Jolly Rancher candies
- ⅓ cup dairy free butter (we use Country Crock plant butter sticks)
- ¾ cup sugar (use brown sugar for darker caramel,
- ¼ cup Karo light corn syrup
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (this helps prevent sugar crystalization)
- 3 Tablespoons canned coconut milk* (the Silk dairy free half and half also works here)
- Dash salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Baking sheet pan
- 1-quart saucepan
- Parchment paper
- 10 Lollipop sticks or popsicle sticks
Green apple suckers:
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Arrange 10 green apple Jolly Rancher candies on the baking sheet in pairs with space between each pair for the candy to melt.
- Bake for 3 to 5 minutes until just melted. Remove from the oven immediately and add lollipop sticks to the candy before the candy cools.
- Allow the candy to cool and set up while making the dairy free caramel.
Dairy free caramel:
- In a 1-quart saucepan with a sturdy/thick bottom, melt the dairy free butter over medium heat (this only takes a few minutes).
- Once the butter is melted, whisk in the sugar (or brown sugar), corn syrup, canned coconut milk, and dash of salt.
- Simmer over medium-low heat for 7 minutes, whisking regularly to keep things mixed, but try not to scrape down the sides of the pan.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Allow to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes to thicken. You will want this caramel to be warm enough to scoop onto the suckers, but cool enough it will still stick and won't melt the candy.
- Coat the suckers in a layer of caramel that isn't super thick and put back on the parchment paper and allow to cool completely. Some of the caramel may settle on the sides if you make the softer caramel with 3 Tablespoons of coconut milk.
- Store any leftovers on parchment paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist