Salty, sweet, crunchy and oh-so addictive. Twenty-two cups of popcorn might seem like a lot, but trust us, this goes fast. The hour in the oven creates that extra firm and dry coating on the popcorn, which allows it to store for a longer period of time – if you can keep from gobbling it up. It also makes the treat easier to eat, as it isn’t so sticky on the fingers. You can pop your corn in oil or in an air popper, just make sure it is freshly made. We are not fans of purchased popcorn – it always seems a bit stale. Many recipes for caramel popcorn do not require a candy thermometer and the recipe can work, but we find it is then trial and error.
- 22 cups popped popcorn (about ¾ cup unpopped kernels. See Tips below)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
- 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus extra as needed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Position oven racks in upper and lower third of
oven. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper; set aside.
- Lightly coat a very large bowl with nonstick spray. Place popped corn in the bowl. Lightly coat a large spoon or rubber spatula with nonstick spray; set aside.
- Place the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt in a heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan and stir to combine. Cook over medium-high heat until it boils, then boil for about 4 minutes without stirring. If you have a candy thermometer, you want the mixture to come to 275°F. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and baking soda and swirl the pot to incorporate.
- Immediately and slowly pour the caramel over the popcorn stirring and tossing it constantly with the prepared spoon/spatula. You want to coat the popcorn as evenly as possible with the caramel. Taste the popcorn at this stage. If you want more salt, sprinkle some additional salt over the popcorn as you toss it.
- Divide the caramel-coated popcorn between the two baking pans, breaking up any large clumps. Bake for 1 hour, tossing two or three times during the baking time. Cool completely on racks. Popcorn is ready to serve. Store at room temperature in airtight containers for up to 1 week.
- Every tablespoon of unpopped corn will yield about 2 cups popped. This can vary widely, however, due to your popping technique and how many “old maids” are leftover. That’s the actual term for the unpopped kernels leftover after you have popped your corn.
- To make a homemade version of Cracker Jack, reduce the corn syrup to 1/3 cup. Add 2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses to the butter/sugar mixture and proceed with recipe. When you get to the stage where you are combining the caramel and popcorn, sprinkle in 1 cup toasted peanuts.
- To make popcorn balls, simply mold into balls right after you have finished combining the caramel and popcorn. Bake the balls as instructed for the loose popcorn.