Recipe: Deliciously Craveable Caramel Popcorn

May 5th, 2021

Brought to you by America's Test Kitchen

Caramel popcorn recipe Image

Did you know that popcorn comes in different shapes? There are two main kinds: butterfly (also called snowflake) and mushroom. Most of the popcorn you get at the movies or buy at the market is butterfly shape, which pops up light and fluffy with lots of “wings” sticking out.

Caramel popcorn, however, is often made with mushroom popcorn, which is a rounder shape (like a mushroom with a cap) and a sturdier texture. Both popcorn shapes work for this recipe, but if you find mushroom popcorn in a specialty store or online, give it a try with this caramel popcorn recipe! Note: Use plain popcorn in this recipe, not popcorn with butter flavoring. Make sure to use dark corn syrup here. Light corn syrup won’t give you that deep caramel-y color.

Caramel Popcorn Recipe

Makes 7 1/2 cups

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 7 cups popped plain popcorn
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup salted peanuts (optional)

1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Spray the inside bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch metal baking pan with vegetable oil spray. Place popcorn in the baking pan.

2. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar, corn syrup and salt to the saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and the slide saucepan to a cool burner.

3. Carefully add vanilla and baking soda (mixture will bubble and foam). Add peanuts (if using) and stir to combine.

4. Use a rubber spatula to carefully scrape the caramel mixture onto the popcorn in the baking pan (the saucepan will be heavy, and the caramel will be hot). Use the rubber spatula to gently stir until the popcorn is evenly coated. Spread the popcorn into an even layer.

5. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the baking pan from oven. Place baking pan on a cooling rack. Use the rubber spatula to carefully stir the popcorn, scraping up caramel from bottom of pan (the pan will be hot). Spread the popcorn back into even layer.

6. Return the baking pan to the oven and bake until the popcorn is deep golden brown, about 40 minutes, repeating stirring halfway through baking.

7. Remove the baking pan from the oven. Place the baking pan on a cooling rack and carefully stir the popcorn one last time (the pan will be hot). Let caramel popcorn cool completely in pan, about 30 minutes. Break the popcorn apart with your hands and serve.

Recipe note: Caramel popcorn can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to five days.

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