Movie night is not as fun without caramel popcorn! But why buy a bag if you can make it at home?
It’s sweet, creamy, and seriously addictive. I could eat it all day if you let me!
Each piece is coated evenly with hardened caramel that provides a lovely crunch and sweetness like no other.
It’s ideal for special occasions and movie nights at home. But it’s also great for a light snack or as an after-dinner sweet treat.
And if you’ve never made caramel popcorn before, don’t stress. It’s way easier than you think – even with the bubbling sugar!
Easy Homemade Caramel Popcorn
Homemade caramel popcorn sounds complicated (yes, caramel can be a pain), but it’s actually pretty straightforward.
Just pop some popcorn, make homemade caramel, combine the two, and pop them in the oven.
No sweat, right?
Low effort, high reward – I love it!
One recipe makes a big batch, too! That means there’s enough for everybody (or so you’d think).
Not only that, but it also has an impressive shelf-life. As long as you store it properly, caramel popcorn stays nice and crispy for up to three weeks!
Of course, mine doesn’t last that long somehow…
- Popcorn – like to combine a bag of plain popcorn and salty popcorn for that sweet-salty flavor combo.
- Butter – The key component of rich and buttery caramel. Slice it into small squares so it melts quicker.
- Brown Sugar – It’s the second key component of caramel. You can use either light or dark brown sugar. The only difference is the darker the sugar, the darker the color the caramel will be.
- Corn Syrup – Why add another sweet ingredient to caramel when there’s already sugar, you ask? Corn syrup is actually crucial because the combination of sugar and butter alone will result in grainy caramel. Corn syrup keeps it nice and smooth.
- Salt – A little bit of saltiness to contrast the sweet. Use seal salt right at the end if you like salted caramel!
- Vanilla Extract – Flavor enhancer.
- Baking Soda – Adding baking soda to the caramel at the last minute will create air bubbles, resulting in a soft and silky caramel that sticks to popcorn well.
How to Make Caramel Popcorn
1. Pop the popcorn.
You can do this via the stove, a popcorn maker, or the microwave. Any method works.
Just be sure to get rid of the unpopped kernels before adding the caramel.
Here’s a tip: pour the popcorn over a cooling rack – the unpopped kernels will fall through the cracks!
Place the popcorn in a very large bowl, big enough to allow you to toss the popcorn and caramel without spilling.
2. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grab a baking tray or two baking dishes and line with parchment paper.
3. Make the caramel.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Then, mix in the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt.
Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring it constantly to dissolve the sugar.
Let the mixture boil for 4 minutes without stirring. Then, remove it from the heat and mix in the vanilla, followed by the baking soda.
The caramel will foam up immediately once you add the baking soda. This is the chemical reaction you want.
It introduces air into the caramel, making it lighter and smoother.
4. Coat the popcorn with caramel.
Carefully pour the caramel in a thin stream over the popcorn. At the same time, toss the popcorn until it’s evenly coated with caramel.
Note: the caramel will start to harden as it cools. Despite this, there’s no need to rush. I’ll explain why in a bit.
5. Bake the popcorn.
Divide the popcorn evenly into 2 shallow baking dishes or spread it on the baking sheet.
For easy clean-up, use disposable aluminum pans. Or, spray the dishes with non-stick spray and line them with parchment paper.
Bake the popcorn in the preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring it every 15 minutes.
You need to bake the popcorn for two reasons:
- The heat remelts the caramel, so you don’t need to rush when it’s in the bowl.
- It hardens the caramel and helps the popcorn crisp up.
6. Let the popcorn cool, serve, and enjoy!
Once cool to the touch – about 5 minutes – break the clumps of popcorn apart. Enjoy!
Why is My Caramel Popcorn Grainy?
Your caramel popcorn is likely grainy because you forgot to add the baking soda. Baking soda breaks up the sugar molecules and makes the caramel smooth and light. Without it (or if it’s past its best-by date), the sugar crystals will clump together, making the caramel grainy.
To check if your baking soda is still active, pour a teaspoon of it into a small bowl of vinegar. It should fizz up right upon contact.
If nothing happens, it’s time to get a new box of baking soda.
Or, it could be that you didn’t boil it for long enough in the beginning. When stirring, ensure you move all around the edges so no crystals can form.
Why is My Caramel Popcorn Sticky?
Your caramel popcorn is likely sticky because it hasn’t been cooked for long enough. Caramel needs to boil naturally over medium heat, which can take around 4-5 minutes. It needs to reach 300 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s best to use a candy thermometer to achieve the perfect caramel temperature.
This guarantees that once the caramel cools, it dries up nicely, creating a shiny coating around the popcorn.
But, if you want the popcorn a chewy, boil the caramel a little less – about 3 minutes.
Lastly, resist the urge to increase the temperature to cook it faster! Once the caramel reaches peak caramelization, it’ll overheat and burn fast.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Caramel Popcorn
- Be very careful when working with caramel. That stuff is extremely hot!
- Despite the efforts to grease and line your baking dish, you might still end up with bits of hardened caramel at the bottom. Simply soak the pans in hot soapy water for a few minutes, and the caramel will melt away.
- Use non-stick utensils for easy cleaning. If you have a silicone spatula, use that to toss the popcorn and caramel.
- Don’t be tempted to try it before it goes in the oven. The caramel just came off the stove and will be extremely hot!
Add-Ins and Flavor Variations
- Mix chopped nuts with the popcorn and drizzle melted milk or white chocolate while it’s cooling.
- Add in M&M’s and/or your favorite crushed candies.
- For a fun textural contrast, mix in mini-marshmallows.
- Mix a dot of Sriracha into the caramel for an incredible sweet and spicy finish.
- Stir 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the caramel or sprinkle the baked popcorn with salt for a salted caramel finish.
How to Store Caramel Popcorn
Transfer popcorn into an airtight container or Ziploc bag and seal it tightly.
Store at room temperature on the counter for up to 3 weeks! Honestly, though, it doesn’t last 3 hours in my house.
If the popcorn has gone stale, just pop it in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until it crisps back up (about 5 minutes).
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