Homemade Golden Caramel Popcorn in a Bowl

Gift-Worthy Caramel Corn Just in Time for the Holidays

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.

Yankee Candle Flagship Store

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 amazing gift-worthy caramel corn, with 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.

Caramel Corn

This is what it will look like

homemade carmel corn

Homemade Golden Caramel Popcorn in a Bowl
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5 from 3 votes

Caramel Corn

Here’s a quick and easy way to make what I find amazing gift-worthy caramel corn, with 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.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time49 minutes
Total Time1 hour 4 minutes
Course: Dessert, Gifts, Sweets
Cuisine: Western
Servings: 12 1-cup servings
Calories: 204kcal

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup popping corn kernels (See NOTES for shortcut)
  • 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 vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 225F.

Ready the Popcorn

  • Pop the popcorn. Place the popped popcorn (approx. 12 cups) into a big bowl 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.

Notes

  1. SHORTCUT. Costco sell a ginormous bag of Popcornopolis Naked Popcorn. It's 22 oz. by weight but get this: It says it contains 22 servings ... and one serving = 4 cups. That means 88 cups of perfectly popped popcorn. Divide that by 12 and you can make this recipe just shy of eight times! This is my best kept secret. The kernals are all big and round and fluffy and not a deadbeat kernel to be found. 
  2. 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.
  3. Food grade glucose is a reasonable substitute for corn syrup. Look for this in a well-stocked supermarket, pharmacy, or online.
  4. If substituting glucose for corn syrup, increase baking time by 15-20 minutes, as glucose has a higher water content than corn syrup and takes longer for the caramel corn to dry out. 
  5. 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. 
  6. kcal calculation made assuming dry popcorn is air-popped without oil.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 204kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 218mg | Potassium: 46mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 29g | Vitamin A: 236IU | Calcium: 20mg | Iron: 0.3mg

Now I am thinking about replicating 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!

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31 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Sandy says:

    5 stars
    I have a similar recipe that has become a Christmas tradition at my house. But my secret ingredient was always burnt sugar flavoring. Sounds terrible but is awesome! Having a hard time finding it these days, though.

    Reply
      • Sandy says:

        5 stars
        Thanks, Mary! I tried your recipe last night and I admit it is better than mine. My recipe had a smaller proportion of corn syrup and called for 5 minutes of boiling and I always stirred it! I followed your recipe and I like the results. Now I will try it again but will add the burnt sugar flavoring. I look forward to much fun, and very tasty, experimentation!

  2. Wendy Adelesi says:

    5 stars
    Wow… I have never seen this recipe anywhere else before. Igot it frm my Aunt almost 40 years ago. Its so good. Everytime I make it I end up making double or triple batches. I have also given the recipe to countless people. Its the best I have Ever Eaten

    Reply
  3. Karen Ranieri says:

    After this is completely cool and dry, we drizzle with white and milk chocolate and finish with add ins according to the gift: snickers popcorn (chocolate and finely chopped peanuts), coconut and dark chocolate for almond joy, etc… it goes fast!!

    Reply
  4. AnneS says:

    I’m almost over my fear and about ready to try caramel corn again. My experience is akin to yours. Well, except I’ve had to chisel popcorn out of the bowl more than once. We won’t mention pulling an old filling out of a tooth. It needed replacing any way.

    Reply
  5. j says:

    This is the recipe I have used for years; love it! I agree with using Puffcorn, I often make it that way. Also, adding nuts is a special treat. Thanks Mary for the reminder.

    Reply
      • Honeywest says:

        4 stars
        It is a product made by several manufacturers. In our area of Indiana Mikesell’s makes it. IT is puffs of corn. I have a coworker that makes each Christmas. I’ve never made it as I am spoiled by Garrett’s carmel corn. Better than Popcornopolis in my opinion. Out of Chicago. People wait in long lines to buy it but you can order on line. Expensive but worth it as a splurge.

      • +Gayle says:

        I have been making this for years! My recipe calls for molasses which makes it rich and dark like Cracker Jack. Yum!

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