Caramel Popcorn

If you’re a Cracker Jack fan like me, you can adapt this caramel popcorn recipe to suit your fancy. I like to double the ratio of caramel to corn and dump in honey-glazed peanuts sometimes, other times cashews or pecans, although allergy-aware moms can just skip nuts entirely. That’s the beauty of homemade Cracker Jack—no matter what you do, it looks and tastes exactly as it’s supposed to.

Homemade caramel popcorn doesn’t have the same shelf life as the store-bought kind, but that’s fine, too—this won’t last more than an inning.–Allison Parker

LC Popcorn-Palooza Note

We like caramel popcorn as much as the next person—perhaps more. Quite a lot more, actually, when it comes to this old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing recipe from Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD, and co-author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet. (Hey, if a nutritionist chooses to spend her splurge calories on this recipe, it must be good!) This makes a whoppingly big batch. Not that it doesn’t disappear quickly, mind you. But if restraint isn’t your strong suit, you may wish to take strategic action, such as halving the recipe. Or if you have no qualms about temptation, by all means, go ahead and make the full batch. Consider yourself warned.

Caramel Popcorn Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 2 H, 20 M
  • Serves 8 to 12 (if you're lucky)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 1 1/2 sticks salted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (preferably light brown, although dark brown will work if that’s all you have)
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 200° F (93°C). (If your oven doesn’t go this low, simply heat it to the lowest temperature it can maintain and take a few minutes off the total baking time.)
  • 2. Pop the popcorn in an air popper or the conventional stove-top way (some may refer to this as the “old-fashioned” way). The unpopped kernels should yield about 6 to 8 quarts (24 to 32 cups) of popped corn. Transfer the popcorn to 2 large roasting pans.
  • 3. In a small saucepan, heat the butter and brown sugar until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Add the corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil. Keep at a rolling boil for 5 minutes.
  • 4. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately and carefully stir in the baking soda (the mixture may roil and sputter). The caramel will be thick. Quickly pour the caramel over the popcorn, drizzling it back and forth as you stir the popcorn with a wooden spoon. The caramel should be pretty evenly distributed, although it may be impossible to coat every single piece of popcorn. This is okay.
  • 5. Bake the caramel corn for 1 hour total, stirring it every 15 minutes. (The corn will not darken appreciably. Just trust us on the overall timing.) Remove the pans from the oven and let the popcorn cool for 1 hour, if you can wait. Then stir again. If by chance you have any leftover, you can store it in an airtight container for up to a few days. (We’re guessing on how long it will last because no one we know who tried it could keep any around that long. If you can resist temptation, do let us know how the caramel corn holds up after a couple of days!)
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Oct 28, 2010

Based on the quick disappearance of the entire bowlful, I’ll make a double batch next time. I’ll absolutely use the slow-kettle-on-the-stove approach to popping, as I think the corn had a better texture than with an air popper. I’ll also worry less with subsequent batches about how the coating looked, since it tasted delicious, was universally popular among my tasters, and disappeared so quickly! And I’ll add peanuts, making something akin to Cracker Jack. This recipe cried out for nuts, which would snuggle in comfortably between the thickish caramel and the popped corn.

I used popcorn kernels from ears of corn that are part of our CSA and popped them in the conventional (some may say old-fashioned) way, on the stovetop. It was difficult to drizzle the caramel evenly over the popcorn in the roasting pan as the caramel was a bit on the thick side and the loose kernels of popcorn wanted to pop (no pun intended) over the edges of the roasting pan. As a result, there were some kernels that were as well-coated as commercial caramel corn and others without any caramel coating, but bite by bite, there was enough of the delicious caramel to earn the name Caramel Corn.

In terms of keeping and accurately determining the number of servings, it’s hard to tell. About a dozen people nibbled on it as a snack and it was gone. Were they sated? Likely, no. Would they have eaten more? Likely yes—a lot more. Should there be any concern about whether the lack of solid or even caramel coating affects its appeal? No, not a bit. I can also tell you it keeps overnight, since we made it in the evening, let it cool overnight, and served it the following day.

Testers Choice
Leanne Abe

Oct 28, 2010

Now, here’s a caramel corn recipe that works! The key is all the stirring as the caramel corn bakes as well as when its cooling, so make sure you have a large enough pan to do this. I did halve the recipe, so 3/4 cup kernels gave me about 14 cups of popcorn. After an hour in the oven, the caramel corn was, well, a nice caramel color, and smelled heavenly. Only good sense kept me from sneaking a taste right then. You could probably serve six people with the half recipe, but only if you portioned it out to them. Four of us went through it fast while watching a movie.

Testers Choice
Maria Peplowski

Oct 28, 2010

This is very easy to make (although it does take some time while waiting for it to bake and cool), and is nice and crispy. Even though the weather has been unbearably humid, three days later the caramel corn is still nice and crispy. I made this using store-brand popcorn on the stovetop and got a much bigger yield than stated in the recipe. I also used much less than what popped; probably about 12 cups. The caramel turns slightly darker as it bakes, and it cools in much less time than the recipe indicates. My husband and I both kept inhaling it! I’ll be making this recipe again, but I think I’ll add some nuts to the mixture.

Comments
Comments
  1. RisaG says:

    OMG does this sound good. I love Cracker Jack. I also make a wonderful oven-baked caramel corn recipe that everyone loves. I will try this one too, though. Thanks for sharing it with us. I can’t wait…

  2. This has got to be the most perfect looking caramel corn I’ve ever seen.

  3. Maria says:

    I made this amazing popcorn for my 12 year old’s sleepover. I doubled the caramel topping and the result was perfectly coated popcorn! Three days later and the popcorn is still fresh tasting as well. I will definitely be making this again! Thank you for this wonderful recipe!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      You’re quite welcome, Maria. And you’re a caramel popcorn person after my own heart–as much as I adore popcorn, really, caramel corn is all about the caramel, in all its glorious excess. Seems you feel the same.

      • If you cook the carmel corn for two hours instead of one it is much crunchier, coated better, and tastes so much more intensely rich. (I have the same recipe, only I use cream of tarter instead of baking soda, and my oven time is longer.). My recipe comes from the early 1900′s. The recipe is soooooo worth the calories!!! :-)

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          Well! Thank you, Pam. We wouldn’t have thought to do that, although come to mention it, I recall waiting an obscene amount of time for the caramel corn that my Grandma made to come out of the oven, and it was incredibly complex and richly flavored. She, too, used cream of tartar. I wonder if we ought to compare recipes…? Again, thank you..

  4. Chidi says:

    Has anyone tried packing caramel corn in a polythene bag and monitoring changes in taste or texture before?

  5. Christina Beranek says:

    Did a test on how long it would last before making it for a fundraiser. Put it in a clear “treat bag” on Sunday. Opened it every day to test it for taste. Today is Thursday and it still tastes just as good as it did the first day. Cannot continue the test. We ate it all!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Hah! Love that Christina! And personally, I think you did darn well making it all the way to Thursday….

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