1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups firmly packed golden-brown sugar
1 cup butter, cut into chunks
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
10 to 12 small to medium-sized apples (I use Fuji because the flavor is sweet and rich, and the texture is crisp and juicy)
12 Popsicle sticks (available at most craft stores)
3 cups darkly roasted, skinned and chopped hazelnuts (optional; see variation)

In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, half-and-half, heavy cream, light corn syrup and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until butter and sugars have melted and mixture comes to a gentle boil. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes.

At this point, insert a candy thermometer and continue cooking and stirring occasionally until temperature reaches between 243 and 245 F. This will take at least another 20 minutes, but I've had batches that have taken up to 40 minutes; it varies due to amounts of moisture in butter, for one thing. Don't rush it!

Remove from heat immediately and stir in the vanilla. Take pot over to your work surface and prop it so pan tilts sideways, giving you a deep pool of caramel to dip the apples into.

Poke a Popsicle stick into stem end of each apple. Dip each apple into caramel, twirling it around and spooning caramel over top of apple if necessary to cover it entirely. Place each coated apple on a well-greased cookie sheet (or a cookie sheet with nonstick coating). When all apples are coated, place them in refrigerator for a few minutes so caramel gets firm.

Makes 10 to 12 caramel apples.

VARIATION: Skin roasted and cooled nuts by one of the following options. Tumble nuts onto a terry-cloth towel, fold over and rub vigorously back and forth so nuts release their skins. Or place cooled nuts into a large, plastic container (that holds at least twice the volume of nuts) with a tight-fitting lid; shake vigorously back and forth, up and down and all around, which abrades the skin from them. To remove loosened skins from either method, spread them onto a large baking sheet, take them outside and blow the papery skins away. Chop roasted nuts and arrange them in a wide bowl. After dipping each apple in hot caramel, dip or roll apple in chopped nuts.