This sweet and salty caramel popcorn recipe (AKA caramel corn) is simple to make and impossible to stop eating. The caramel cools to a brittle candied shell around freshly popped popcorn. Recipe includes a how-to video!
To me, caramel popcorn tastes like nostalgia. This old-fashioned recipe takes me back to family beach vacations as a kid. Walking up and down the Ocean City, MD boardwalk, picking up seashells, guarding my french fries from (seriously aggressive) seagulls, and begging my parents to buy a giant bucket of caramel corn. I’m not sure if caramel popcorn is popular at beaches everywhere, but it’s kind of a big deal in Maryland. Unfortunately it’s also pretty pricey.
If only I’d known how easy it was to make at home.
Seven ingredients (8 if you like nuts), no candy thermometer needed for the caramel, and the option to pop your own popcorn or use the microwave variety. This recipe makes caramel that hardens as the popcorn cools for a thin, brittle exterior, making a candied popcorn that’s crunchy rather than sticky. If you’ve never had this sweet and salty treat before, you’re in for a serious treat.
Here’s What You Need
- Popcorn. You’ll need 10 cups, which I’ve found fits perfectly on a single cookie sheet. More on the type of popcorn to use a bit later in the post.
- Unsalted butter. We’ll add salt to the caramel. See my post for more information on why I like to use unsalted butter and then add salt.
- Brown sugar. I use a blend of light and dark brown sugar. You can use all light brown sugar, but I like the added richness, flavor, and color of adding in some dark brown sugar.
- Light corn syrup. This is a necessity that plays a critical role in this caramel popcorn coating, don’t leave it out! As I’ve discussed in my sugar cookie icing and lace cookies, it is not the same as high fructose corn syrup. I do not know of any adequate substitutes in the US, but I believe glucose syrup would be a sufficient substitute outside of the US where corn syrup is not readily available.
- Vanilla extract.
- Baking soda. this enriches the flavor and helps the caramel spread more easily and encourages the caramel coating to be snappy and crunchy rather than chewy.
- Peanuts, or your favorite nut. These are optional!
What Kind of Popcorn is Best for Caramel Corn?
You have a lot of options here. You can pop your own popcorn in a cast iron Dutch oven or in an air popper, no need to add salt or butter before proceeding with the recipe. You can also use microwave popcorn! While I usually just pop my own, Zach loves the extra flavor from using microwave popcorn. If I opt for store-bought I usually use Popsecret Homestyle popcorn, though I’m sure other brands would work as well.
Tips for Caramel Popcorn
- You can use your favorite type of nut or leave the nuts out entirely.
- Unsalted/unbuttered popcorn (made in an air popper on the stovetop) will work for this recipe as will microwave popcorn
- Don’t worry if you’re having trouble coating 100% of the popcorn with the caramel right after you pour it. Do as much as you can — aim for 75% of the popcorn. You’ll be able to continue to coat the popcorn as you stir it during cooking.
- After cooking, break apart any popcorn clusters with a spatula before they cool.
- Popcorn will still be soft and slightly sticky while it’s warm, but once it cools the caramel should be a hard thin shell around the popcorn.
How to Store
Allow caramel popcorn to cool completely then store it in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1-2 weeks. You can also freeze caramel corn! Freeze in an airtight container for several months. If popcorn has softened, you can reheat it in a 250F oven; cook for ten minutes at a time until no longer soft.
More Recipes You Might Like:
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- 10 cups popcorn¹
- ½ cup 1 stick unsalted butter (113g)
- 1 cup light brown sugar firmly packed (200g)
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar² 66g
- ¼ cup light corn syrup 60ml
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup dry roasted salted peanuts or preferred nut optional (110g)
- Preheat oven to 250F (120C). Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease with cooking spray.
- Place popcorn, on prepared baking sheet and place in the oven on the center rack to keep warm while you prepare the caramel coating.
- Place butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Cook until butter is melted.
- Add brown sugars, corn syrup, and salt and cook until the sugar is dissolved.
- Bring mixture to a boil (still over medium heat), Boil for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Remove caramel from heat and stir in vanilla extract and baking soda until completely combined.
- Remove popcorn from oven and drizzle caramel over popcorn. Sprinkle nuts over top (if using) and then use a spatula to stir until popcorn and nuts are mostly coated with caramel (it’ll be a little tough to get popcorn completely coated, aim for coating about 75% of the popcorn, you’ll be able to coat more later on).
- Return cookie sheet to center rack in oven and bake on 250F (120C) for 40-45 minutes, removing the popcorn every 10-15 minutes to stir.
- Once finished cooking, stir again and allow popcorn to cool completely on the baking sheet before enjoying.
Storing:Caramel popcorn will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 weeks. You may also freeze for several months.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.