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Dan's Candies Boasts Nearly a Century of Experience Making Caramel Apples

The family-owned Joliet business owners says the secret to making candy apples is using the right kind of apple -- Jonathons -- but they won't disclose their recipe.

Every autumn since 1919, employees of family-run Dan's Homemade Candies are up to their elbows in caramel they dip apples into 200-degree copper kettles full of the sticky goo.

It's one of their signature items, of which they produce 10 to 13 loads of apples a day, with each load producing between 350 and 400 taffy apples.

Every apple—whether it's destined to be peppered with granulated salted nuts, served plain or decked in orange to resemble a pumpkin—is hand-dipped. In an average year, Dan's sells 100,000-plus small, medium and large taffy apples from its locations at 229 E. Cass St. and 1103 Plainfield Road in Joliet.

The small apples are dipped first to get a nice coating. As the caramel cools, they move to the medium-sized ones and then finally, the large apples. The longer the batch cools, the thinker the coating, said Kelly Bostjancic, a member of the Nelson family, which bought the store and its recipes in 1991.

And while the term "taffy apple" is as much a part of Americana as scarecrows and trick-or-treaters, said Bostjancic, it's really caramel that coats the apple. The special recipe for Dan's caramel remains a family secret; if you see a recipe on Facebook, it's bogus, she said.

The Secret's in the Apples   

However, Bostajancic did share some tidbits about the key ingredient in the store's top autumn seller. It's the apples, she said. "We never buy apples from a store because they have wax on them.

"We use only Jonathon apples," she said. "We get them at the beginning of the season from Southern Illinois and later in the season (from orchards) in Michigan."

It was tough this year, she added, becuase so many apple trees were were affected by the draught. "We got them from an orchard way north in Michigan."

Why Jonathan apples? There are two reasons: 1) They're sturdy. They don't get mushy when dipped in the hot caramel; 2) They have a thick skin and a firm texture that stands up to the steamy temperature of the caramel.

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Craig Lichtenwalter October 15, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I love Dans caramel apples; however, I had them this year from both locations and was disappointed as the apples were soft. Much better when the apple is crisp. Maybe it was a bad growing season this year, but hey the caramel on them was still great.
Veronica October 15, 2012 at 09:58 PM
I purchased some as Thank You party favors for my 40th B-Day and also tried them and were mushy as well. Also, the people that work there aren't very friendly. :(
Greg D October 17, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I have been going there for many years and have never experienced any of the ladies that work there to be unfriendly.maybe you just had a sales person who was not her self that day . But to say the people that work there are unfriendly...not so ...
Greg D October 17, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Yeah the apples where not to par ,,I knew going in there the apple crop was bad all over but hey I love them ..; ) , but I still went to get them several times more.. hoping they would hit a better batch of apples....Oh I tried the recipe on FaceBook for the caramel it might not be THE recipe but it's sure taste like it...mmmmmmmmm.

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