Homemade caramel popcorn makes for a delicious sweet and crunchy snack. If your snacking hovers between buttered popcorn and confections like chocolate or candy, this caramel popcorn recipe may become your go-to for family movie nights.
About Caramel Popcorn
Caramel popcorn originated in the late 1800s with Cracker Jack being one of the first companies to produce it. Basically, it is popcorn coated in caramel with either sugar or molasses as the base. Today, several companies produce and sell caramel popcorn, and some even add nuts like almonds, pecans, or peanuts to their popcorn blends. Some may include dark or light corn syrup or brown sugar as well. Some companies have even ventured to create sweet and spicy combinations by adding spice to caramel popcorn in the form of chili or sriracha.
Another common blend is Chicago Mix - a combination of caramel popcorn and cheese flavor popcorn, which tastes irresistible as a sweet and savory snack. If you have ever wondered how to make caramel popcorn, this homemade caramel popcorn recipe is a perfect place to start.
How to Make Homemade Caramel Popcorn
For this homemade caramel popcorn recipe, you will want to preheat the oven to 225°F. This is so that you can bake the caramel popcorn so that has a pleasant crispiness. Two parchment-paper-lined baking sheets will be perfect to ensure that the layers of popped popcorn aren't too thick so that the popcorn will crisp up evenly.
Cooking the Popcorn
One of the most important steps of this popcorn recipe is, of course, cooking the popcorn. To do this, you can use your preferred method, such as the microwave (my husband and I sell these silicone microwave poppers), an air popper, or a large Dutch oven on the stove. You will be using a ½ cup of popcorn kernels to pop 10 to 12 cups of popped popcorn. Cooking popcorn from the kernels is ideal as popcorn kernels tend to be cheaper than microwave popcorn in a bag, and results in a crisper texture.
The stovetop method of cooking popcorn may be the most accessible to most home cooks. Here is how to do it:
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.
- Add the kernels and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
- Cook the popcorn, shaking the Dutch oven once in a while, until all of the kernels have popped. This should only take a few minutes.
- Once done, pour the popcorn in a large bowl while you proceed with the remaining steps of the caramel popcorn recipe.
While you may be tempted to make the popcorn with a smaller pot or pan, a Dutch oven is best. This is because the popcorn will pop, taking up large volume and filling up the entire Dutch oven.
Making the Caramel
To make caramel for this popcorn recipe, heat the coconut oil until melted before combining it with maple syrup and salt. However, if you don't want to use coconut oil, you can feel free to substitute it with either ghee, butter, or vegan butter if you have it. Additionally, while the maple syrup adds a wonderfully complex flavour to this popcorn recipe, you may choose to include golden syrup, agave nectar, or honey. The option of replacing the fat and sweetener is great because it means that you should be able to make this recipe on a whim without having to take a trip to the grocery store.
Once the coconut oil and maple syrup are combined in the pot, bring the mixture to a boil before reducing to a simmer. The mixture should simmer for a total of 3 to 4 minutes so that it thickens slightly. Next, remove from heat before stirring the vanilla and baking soda into the syrup. It is ideal to add the vanilla after cooking rather than before, as it can sometimes steam off through the cooking process. While some caramel popcorn recipes require a candy thermometer, there is no need for one in this version.
Tossing the Homemade Caramel Popcorn
Immediately toss the popcorn with the syrup until the popcorn is completely coated in the caramel syrup. Using a silicone spatula is great for scraping all of the syrup out of the saucepan. You can enjoy the popcorn immediately or proceed to the next step if you would like crisper, less sticky popcorn.
To make the popcorn crispy, arrange it in even layers on the two prepared baking sheets and bake them for a total time of 30 to 40 minutes. It is best to line the baking sheets with parchment paper for easy cleanup. You will want to stir the popcorn on each baking sheet every 10 minutes or so to ensure that the popcorn crips up evenly. After baking, you can enjoy the popcorn immediately or allow it to cool down before storing it in an airtight container. Sealed, the popcorn should stay fresh for 2 and 3 weeks. Consider making a batch of this popcorn for some Halloween treats or gifting over the Christmas holidays.
While this homemade caramel popcorn recipe is perfect as it is, you may decide you would like to change it sometimes. To do so, here are some ideas:
- Replace a portion of the popcorn with your favourite nuts such as pecans, peanuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, or pistachios. Just be sure that these aren't pre-toasted as you will want them to hold up to the heat of the oven.
- Add sriracha to the syrup for spicy caramel popcorn. You can add however much or little as you like.
- After the popcorn has crisped in the oven, toss it with chopped dried fruit or crystallized ginger.
- After the popcorn has baked and cooled, toss it with other items like mini marshmallows, pretzels, and chocolate chips for an intriguing snack mix.
Other Snack Recipes You'll Love:
Homemade Caramel Popcorn
- 2 tablespoon coconut oil ghee, butter, or vegan butter
- ¼ cup maple syrup or honey, agave nectar, golden syrup
- ⅓ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup popcorn kernels popped to about 10-12 cups
- Preheat your oven to 225°F. Prepare 2 baking sheets. Line with parchment or silicone baking mat for easy cleanup.
- In a small saucepan melt the coconut oil (or alternative) together with the maple syrup (or other liquid natural sweetener) and sea salt.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then turn down to low and simmer for 3-4 minutes without stirring.
- Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and baking soda. The caramel mix will start bubbling up.
- Drizzle the caramel mixture over the popcorn in several additions. Be sure to toss well in between each addition.
- If you need a quick homemade caramel corn fix, you can enjoy it right away, but it will be sticky. So use a spoon or chopstick for eating and be sure to finish the entire batch.
- For crispier, dry to the touch caramel corn, spread the caramel coated popcorn on 2 baking sheets in a single layer. Place them in the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, while stirring every 10 minutes or so.
- Afterwards, the caramel corn is ready to enjoy or let cool completely, then store in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.