Caramel popcorn, aka Cracker Jack, is easy to make. This recipe, with brown sugar, butter, and baking soda, is more delicate and buttery than the baseball classic. And what’s wrong with that?
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. The beauty of homemade caramel corn is that no matter what you do, it’s still vastly more delicate and buttery than the stale sort of stuff you get at the ball park. So if you’re a Cracker Jack fan, consider doubling 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. 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. Originally published October 28, 2010.–Allison Parker
- Quick Glance
- 20 M
- 2 H, 20 M
- Serves 8 to 12 (if you're lucky)
- 1 1/4 cups unpopped popcorn kernels
- 1 1/2 sticks salted butter (6 oz)
- 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
- 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!)
Recipe Testers Reviews
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.
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 6 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.
This is very easy to make (although it does take some time while waiting for it to bake and cool) and is nice and crisp. My husband and I both kept inhaling it!
Even though the weather has been unbearably humid, three days later the caramel corn is still nice and crisp. 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. I’ll be making this recipe again, but I think I’ll add some nuts to the mixture.