Truthfully, popcorn is one of my favorite snacks in the whole world–almost an entrée honestly.
Just as lightly salted and buttered popcorn is an entrée, so is caramel corn on my dessert menu. And when you consider that I’ve spent a good deal of my career as a pastry chef, putting caramel corn on that menu is telling you something. I’d gladly trade the most decadent chocolate fudge cake with vanilla bean ice cream and hot fudge sauce for a bowl of caramel corn.
But not just ANY caramel corn. I do have my standards. By standards, I mean not just any caramel corn, and I don’t mean namby-pamby kettle corn either. I mean, it has to be the caramel, toffee-like, buttery kind, with BIG pops of corn, no nuts, and no toys–nothing to interfere with pure perfection.
You see, I’m a caramel corn snob, and everyone around here knows it. Caramel and I go way back. I think I preferred it to chocolate the first time I got a Slo Poke® sucker. I got addicted. From there, I got hooked on Milk Duds®, and finally it progressed to eating straight caramels right out of the bag.
I don’t recall the intervention, but somehow, as I look back on it, getting braces on my teeth seemed to moderate the affliction. It was quite a devious plot. Nowadays, I enjoy caramel corn whenever I find a bag really worth my time. If too much time passes, well, I just make my own. My popcorn of choice? Pop Secret ® Homestyle, which isn’t too salted or too buttery–a very natural taste.
Before I share my caramel recipe, some words of wisdom:
You already know my favorite brand of popcorn, but the other ingredients are important too. Don’t skimp on quality. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making your own caramel corn, do it right. That means choosing ingredients that have GREAT flavors–real cream, good butter (like Plugra®), and pure vanilla. I’d also recommend sea salt over iodized.
Generally speaking, the recipe isn’t complicated or unique. To tell you the truth, nearly all good recipes are the same. They almost have to be, or you don’t end up with caramel corn. What matters is the quality of the ingredients and the amount of caramel added to the popcorn. Too little and it’s a waste; too much and it’s a mess.
Lastly, while you can cook this sauce mixture a little longer (about 10 minutes) and then pour it over your popped corn, stir it and be done with it, I recommend that you cook it less (5 minutes) before baking it. It will come out more evenly coated, lighter, and, well, just better.
With that said, here’s my recipe:
Makes about 4 quarts or 8 servings
4 Quarts Popped Corn
½ Cup Salted Plugra® Butter
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar
½ Cup Clear Corn Syrup
½ tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
½ tsp Sea Salt
- Pre-heat your oven to 250 F. Yes, 250 F.
- Pop the corn, remove any unpopped kernels, and then place the popcorn in a roasting pan (with a 2” lip), which has been sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray.
- Place the popped corn into the oven to keep warm while you make your caramel sauce.
- In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, place the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt. Bring this mixture to a boil, and stir for about 5 minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla and the baking soda. The baking soda is important because it will make the caramel lighter and crisper and easier to eat.
- Remove the popped corn from the oven and pour the hot sauce over the popped corn while stirring and folding it in to coat evenly.
- Place the coated popcorn in the oven and bake for 45 minutes at 250 F, stirring once every 15 minutes.
- Remove the baked caramel corn from the oven, and turn out onto a foil sheet sprayed once again with non-stick vegetable spray.
- Allow to cool. Break apart into smaller clusters, and store in an air-tight container.