Caramel apples dipped to perfection


What makes a great caramel apple? According to Matt Masiero, co-owner of Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, surprisingly enough, not local apples.

"Local apples don't stand up to the heat of the caramel," he said. 'They tend to soften up and you want something crispy. We use Granny Smith apples out of California or Washington. We use only Granny Smith apples, the 80-count or larger apple." He explained 80-count refers to the number of apples in the box; an apple found at a regular supermarket is usually a 100-count apple. "They're [the 80-count] roughly the size of a fist; it's a beautiful apple."

And then there's the caramel ... "For a good caramel apple, you need a crisp apple and good caramel," Masiero said. "No one wants to bite into a soft apple. And the caramel should be soft, not hard."

While Guido's doesn't make its own caramel, Masiero said he buys "really good caramel" from a commercial maker, who he wants to keep anonymous to protect Guido's "secret recipe," which includes adding a few ingredients (also a secret) to the already-made caramel.

Masiero said Guido's has been making caramel apples for about 10 years and it came about purely by chance.

"I was visiting a friend who has a store like Guido's and I saw hundreds of apples lined up, with sticks in them, and four or five people ready to dip them in caramel. I asked my friend if I could come back a week later to learn the process. He showed me the whole dipping process and told me where to get the caramel."

The first year, he, alone, made all the caramel apples — 3,000 of them. Now, a team of his employees make caramel apples, for both the Great Barrington and Pittsfield stores, three or four times a week and the yearly average is 12,000 to 15,000.

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"They're pretty seasonal," Masiero said. "On fall weekends, people are looking for apples." He added Guido's makes its caramel apples from mid-September to Easter.

On Tuesday afternoon, caramel apple making was in full swing at the market. In a former cooler, several metal trays of Granny Smith apples stood at attention with sticks protruding out of the tops. Francilli Tozzo, at the dipping station, lowered apples into the thick amber caramel, using a rubber scraper to make sure every part of the apple was covered and then wiping off the excess drips from the bottom of the apple before placing it back on a tray.

Next her sister, Emilly Tozzo, took the apples in her gloved hands and pressed air bubbles and other imperfections out of the caramel, so the caramel coating was flawless. "We only do this for the plain and salted caramel apples," she said. "With the apples that get coated, it doesn't matter if there are air bubbles because you can't see them."

Once the caramel apples have set a bit, Karine Carlson carefully placed them into cellophane bags, closing the bag with a shiny twist tie and adding a Guido's label on each one.

The women said they usually do 10 to 15 trays of apple in an eight-hour day. When not making caramel apples, they have other duties in the market's produce department.

But the caramel apple story doesn't always stop with the caramel. After being dipped in the caramel, many of the apples are coated with fun toppings. In addition to the basic caramel, the store offers caramel with peanuts, caramel with peanuts and chocolate, caramel and chocolate, Heath Bar crunch, Oreo cookie, M&M and coconut apples. Masiero said the top favorite was the basic caramel apple, with the Triple Dip — peanuts, caramel and chocolate — coming in second. "That's my favorite," he confided. (Ours, too, after a taste test.)

"These aren't apples you bite into," Masiero said. "These are meant to be sliced and then eaten."

He demonstrated the best way to cut the apple, first cutting it in half vertically, about a 1/2-inch from the stick. He then cut the thick slice into small wedges, ready to be served. Turning the apple, he repeated the process on the three other sides, leaving the core in a square around the stick.


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