Looking for the perfect at-home Friday night snack or go-to gift idea during the holidays? Finding a good recipe for homemade caramel corn is your answer. It’s like magic—unassuming popcorn kernels are coated with sweet, gooey caramel and baked low and slow until crisp.
How to Make Caramel Corn
- 6 quarts popped popcorn
- 2 cups packed brown sugar (light or dark brown sugar will work)
- 1 cup butter, cubed
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- Two large glass bowls
- Rubber spatula
- Two greased 13×9-in. baking pans
- Airtight container
Step 1: Pop your corn
Caramel corn starts with popped corn, of course! If using microwave popcorn, leave those unpopped kernels in the bottom of the bag. (This will help with Step 2.) You can also pop popcorn on the stovetop or in an air popper, and I find these methods lead to fewer unpopped kernels.
Step 2: Sift out the unpopped kernels
I find myself eating caramel corn cautiously…you know, in case I run into an unpopped kernel! In my opinion, this is one of the most important steps. Using two bowls and your hands, slowly transfer popped corn from one bowl to the other. In the end, any unpopped kernels (or “old maids” as some call them) should remain in the bottom of the bowl. Discard them and repeat this process, if desired.
Step 3: Make the caramel
Don’t be intimidated here. Making caramel is easy, as long as you pay attention and work quickly. Combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt in a large saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly (don’t walk away or your caramel could burn or bubble over). Continue to boil caramel for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda (you’ll see a color change from the adding the soda and there will be some steam, so be careful). Mix well. Pour over popped popcorn and stir until well-coated.
Step 4: Bake it!
Transfer coated popcorn to two greased 13×9-in. baking pans. Bake, uncovered, at 250° for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool completely.
Now that you’ve mastered the art of making homemade caramel corn, go ahead and try the fruits of your labor! Be sure to store in zip-top plastic bags or an airtight container to maintain freshness. Experiment with adding your favorite nuts, chocolate pieces and dried fruit or try other snack mixes using popcorn.