My Recipe Box

Caramel Popcorn

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Yields about 4 quarts.

  • To learn more, read:
    Caramel Popcorn
  • by Karen DeMasco from Fine Cooking
    Issue 68

At Craft restaurant in Manhattan, where I work as the pastry chef, I like to send out a small bowl of caramel popcorn as a parting gift to guests. I prefer yellow popcorn; it seems to yield the biggest popped kernels.

  • Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbs. vegetable oil, such as peanut or canola
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels, preferably yellow kernels
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) cold  unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pop the popcorn:

Spray two large heatproof rubber spatulas and a very large metal bowl (at least twice the volume of the popped popcorn) with nonstick cooking spray, or lightly wipe with vegetable oil. Heat the oil in an 8-quart or larger heavy-based stockpot over high heat. After a minute, put a popcorn kernel in the pot and cover. When the kernel pops, the oil is hot enough. Add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and shake it back and forth over the heat to agitate the kernels. Keep moving the pot as the popcorn pops. Remove the pot from the heat when the popping slows almost to a stop (it’s better to have a few unpopped kernels than burnt popcorn) and immediately pour the popped corn into the large metal bowl. Search through the popcorn, removing any unpopped kernels (which fall to the bottom of the bowl) or burnt pieces.

Make the caramel:

Measure the baking soda into a small dish so it’s ready to go. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment, foil, or nonstick silicone mats. In a 4-quart or larger saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, butter, and 1 cup water. Gently stir with a wooden or metal spoon just enough to immerse the sugar. Brush down the sides of the pot with water and a clean pastry brush. Cook the sugar mixture over high heat without stirring until it melts and bubbles and turns a very light golden caramel color on top; this will take 10 to 20  minutes, depending on your stove. The caramel will be darker than it appears on the surface, so don’t overcook. At this point, remove the pot from the heat.

caramel corn
Brush the sides of the pan clean with a wet pastry brush after you stir the water, sugar, salt, and butter.
caramel corn
Watch the boiling syrup, but don’t stir or swirl it. Once the syrup turns a golden caramel color, take it off the heat.

Working quickly off the heat, thoroughly whisk the baking soda into the caramel. Do this in or near the sink in case it spills over. The baking soda aerates the cararamel, which makes it easier to eat when it’s cool, but causes it to bubble vigorously now, so be careful. Immediately pour the bubbling caramel over the popcorn in the bowl. Only use the caramel that pours out easily; don’t scrape the sides of the pot (the sugar on the sides of the pot crystallizes easily and can cause the caramel to do the same).

caramel corn
Whisk in the baking soda. The caramel will bubble vigorously and quickly rise up in the pan.
caramel corn
Pour the bubbling caramel onto the popcorn, taking care not to get any on yourself. Don’t scrape out the pot.

Using the heatproof spatulas, toss the caramel with the popcorn. When the popcorn is thoroughly coated, pour it onto the lined baking sheets and use the spatulas to pat it into one flat layer. As soon as it’s cool enough to touch, use your hands to break the layer into smaller clusters. Let them cool completely and then store in an airtight container for up to a week.

caramel corn
Toss the popcorn and caramel as you would a salad, using two heatproof spatulas.
caramel corn
Pat the caramel popcorn into a ­single layer on lined baking sheets.

Variations

Spicy: Stir 3/4 tsp. cayenne into the baking soda and add to the caramel as directed. 
Nutty: Toss 2 cups lightly salted peanuts with the popcorn before pouring on the hot caramel.

Photo: Scott Phillips

I've never made caramel popcorn before and I usually try a ton of recipes before I decide on a favorite, but this might be it! This is some of the best caramel I have ever eaten and it's so easy to make too! Thanks! =)

For the third year in a row I will be making this for 200 people as a parting gift from a winery function. Very good, easy and addictive.

This caramel popcorn is fantastic. Reminds me of walking on the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore as a kid...eating freshly made caramel popcorn. I followed the recipe exactly and turned out wonderful the very first time. Rave reviews from my friends. Make sure you pick out the unpopped kernels before you add the caramel or the kernels stick to the popped corn and you can't get them off. I LOVE this recipe.

Yummy! Be careful with the caramel.

This is the best caramel popcorn I've ever eaten and everyone who tries it says the same. I've made it many times, and you must be attentive and have everything ready to move quickly. I've taken it off the heat both too soon and too late: too soon the sauce is sugary (granular and whitish-yellow) and has not made the caramel mark; too late the caramel becomes burnt and you don't see that until you add the baking soda and it aerates, because the burnt part is underneath the surface. Neither of these are edible! So put a timer on for 10 to 11 minutes when it starts boiling. Watch like a hawk when timer goes off. As soon as you see it START to turn golden-dark yellow wait a few more seconds, then take off the heat, add the baking soda, quickly whisk whisk whisk (it will continue to get darker). Pour over popcorn. Important to cut the salt back to 1 TBS or a little less. The full 1 1/2 TBS of salt is super salty..

I have made this recipe many, many times and it is always a huge hit. I would add that you need a really enormous bowl to stir it, or two big bowls. I don't have a bowl big enough so I always use a stockpot instead.

This stuff is great, and really fun to make. Just keep an eye on the caramel -- do not leave the stove for a second! This stuff can burn up quick. I found that when the very edges of the caramel concoction start to turn slightly golden, that's when it's ready --- because though it may not appear caramel color on the surface, it is very caramel colored underneath.

A Christmas party favorite. This recipe works. Watch your caramel and mind the heat -- swirl the pot when you start to see color so you don't burn the batch. It's important to have all your equipment prepped because things move fast once the caramel is ready. But you'll be rewarded with caramel corn you can't stop eating.

Completely addictive!

Caramel couldn't or shouldn't be cooked on high - at least not on my stove. It was on the verge of burning, even though I turned the heat down when blackish chunks started surfacing. The amount of caramel could probably have coated a larger volume of popcorn. This recipe has a big clean up factor.

Great recipe. The instructions are excellent, easy to follow and give great results every time. Always a crowd pleaser. Recipe has way more salt than I use, so I just cut it down.

I did this recipe a while ago and it turned out perfect with glossy caramel over the popcorn....but I tried to do it again today and every time (3 times, I dont give up so easily) the caramel turned like sugary....can anyone tell me what am I doing wrong????

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