I remember it like it was yesterday, the day I wandered into (actually I was sucked in against my will by the seductive aroma) Popcornopolis in South Deerfield, Mass., (curiously, located inside the Yankee Candle Village Store) and walked out with the most amazing gourmet caramel popcorn.
As an admitted lover of good caramel corn, I have to say a few things about this gourmet popcorn. These people know how to make caramel corn!
With its rich depth of flavor, Popcornopolis Caramel Corn is about as close to perfection as I have ever tasted. But as wonderful as it is, it is also very expensive.
For years, I’ve tried to make good caramel corn, without success. It was either too soggy or too chewy. Or the caramel turned sugary. Once, I needed a hammer and chisel to get the stuff out of the bowl.
I’d really given up until my encounter with Popcornopolis. I had to figure this out―I had to find a way to create a reasonable facsimile in my kitchen that would hit the mark without breaking the bank.
I am excited to let you know that I believe I have.
Just in time for the holidays, here’s a quick and easy way to make what I find to be amazing gift-worthy caramel corn, with both stovetop and microwave instructions, your choice.
Either way, the secret to crunchy, caramelly awesomeness is to finish by baking the caramel corn in a low-temperature oven, stirring often.
This is what it will look like:
- 12 cups popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup kernels or about two bags of plain microwaved popcorn)
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed (OK to sub dark brown sugar)
- 1/2 cup butter, 1 stick (no substitutes, please)
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (omit if using salted microwaved popcorn)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (do you make it yourself? It's the BEST!)
- Preheat oven to 225F.
Ready the Popcorn
- Place the popped popcorn (12 cups) into a big bowl, one that is at least twice the volume of the popcorn itself. Do not err on the side of a bowl that is too small, because you are going to do some serious stirring in a bit. Remove and discard any un-popped kernels.
Make Caramel - Stovetop Instructions
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat
- Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt, stirring until just combined.
- Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce to simmer and allow to cook for 4 minutes—DO NOT STIR.
- Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. You’ll get a little show here as the vanilla will “sizzle” while the baking soda gets all foamy and gorgeous. Make sure the mixture is stirred very well, then immediately pour over the popcorn.
- Stir well to coat all of the popcorn until caramel begins to harden. Keep stirring. A little more until fully and evenly distributed to every bit of popcorn ... there, that ought to be about right.
Make Caramel - Microwave Instructions
- Cut the butter into chunks and place in a microwave-safe bowl along with the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir well to combine. Microwave on high for an additional 2 minutes.
- Remove bowl from microwave and stir very well. Return to microwave and heat for 2 more minutes on high.
- Remove from microwave and stir in vanilla and baking soda. It will make popping sounds and get light and foamy. After stirring, immediately pour over the popcorn in the bowl. Stir well to coat all of the popcorn. Keep stirring. A little more until fully and evenly distributed to every bit of popcorn ... there, that ought to be about right.
Either Way, Continue Here
- Whichever method you’ve followed, now spread the coated popcorn on one large or two smaller cookie sheets, breaking up any clumps. Bake at 225 F for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Spread out on waxed paper and allow to cool.
The Big Finish
- This last step is critical, so don’t skip it. Sample the caramel corn to make sure it is fit for human consumption—perhaps even for gift-giving. You cannot be too careful here. Once you are satisfied, and if any caramel corn remains, store in airtight containers or bags.
- Stays 100% crisp and fresh for 2 - 3 weeks in an airtight container, provided it is completely cool before closing the container.
- Corn syrup is required to stabilize the caramel so it doesn't crystalize. Corn syrup is readily available under the brand name Karo in the U.S. and Canada.
- Food grade glucose is a great substitute for corn syrup. Look for this in any pharmacy.
- If substituting glucose for corn syrup, increase baking time by 20 minutes, as glucose has a higher water content than corn syrup and takes longer for the caramel corn to dry out.
- This caramel corn will remain fresh and crisp for 2 - 3 weeks in an airtight container provided it is fully cooled before closing the container.
- kcal calculation made assuming dry popcorn is air-popped without oil, which has about 31 calories per cup.
Now I am thinking about how I can replicate variations on this basic Caramel Corn. Popcornopolis comes in Chocolate Carmel, Pecan Caramel, and—be still my heart—Cinnamon Bun. The possibilities are endless. I will keep you posted.
Should you come up with a variation worth sharing, please do, using the comments feature below. Thanks!