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Vanilla Caramel Popcorn

I am not going to go on about how great a theme caramel is for this month’s Sugar High Friday, hosted by Debbie at Words to Eat By. Instead, I will just cut to the chase: I made vanilla caramel popcorn.

The inspiration for this recipe was twofold. First, I felt like having some popcorn. Second, I’ve had caramel on the brain while thinking of all the possibilities for SHF and shopping for Easter goodies. Caramel corn was the logical union of the two. I also wanted something I could ship off to relatives as an Easter goodie, but that was more of an afterthought than inspiration.

I found this to be a bit tricky, given that I have no previous experience with candy making. Fortunately for you, this means that I think I can forwarn you of any problems so that they can be avoided easily.

 I used a bag of microwave light butter (94% light, I believe) popcorn. Popped it and poured it out of the bag to cool. I munched on some and measured out between 8 and 10 cups, enough to fill the bottom of a 15×10 baking pan, which I lined with a Silpat. You’ll want to use two pans if you don’t have one this big. I transferred the popcorn to a large glass bowl, thinking that it would be easy to stir in the caramel this way and went to work on the caramel itself.

I combined the sugar, corn syrup and butter in a medium saucepan and tossed in a bit of molasses for extra flavor. Honey would be equally good. I boiled it to hardball (250F) without incident. I premeasured the salt and baking soda into a little dish, but didn’t bother to measure out the vanilla, figuring that I would just pour in a teaspoon with the salt and soda. I didn’t realise that the caramel would foam like crazy when I stirred in the baking soda, and I was so startled that I added way more vanilla than I meant to (hence the tablespoon, rather than a teaspoon in the recipe). No biggie, I figured and poured the caramel into the popcorn bowl where it almost immediately hardened. I should have warmed the bowl in the oven first! I managed to extract most of the popcorn onto my baking sheet and popped it in the oven for an hour. The caramel softened nicely and I was able to spread it out again.

After an hour, I took the corn out, let it cool and broke it into pieces.
Tasters said that it was better and crispier than anything they’ve bought in a store. They also reported that it was very light; no pieces were too hard and there wasn’t too much caramel. The entire batch was virtually inhaled, in large part by me.
In two words?

Absolutely fabulous.

Vanilla Caramel Popcorn

8-10 cups popcorn, un- or lightly-salted
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 tsp molasses
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vanilla

Pop corn and let cool. Line a 10×15 pan with lightly greased foil or a Silpat. Preheat oven to 250F. Place glass bowl in oven to warm while making the caramel.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, molasses and butter; bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 250F and is at hard-ball stage (I double checked with a candy thermometer). This will take 2 to 3 minutes.
In the meantime, transfer popcorn to now-warm glass bowl.
Remove pan from the heat and immediately stir in salt, baking soda and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the popcorn, stirring until most of the kernels are coated. Pour mixture onto baking sheet.
Bake popcorn for 1 hour, stirring (and if necessary, spreading out) every 15-20 minutes.
Let cool and break into pieces. Store in an airtight container

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  • Jessica
    March 17, 2005

    Wow, I didn’t think microwave popcorn could work for caramel corn. I always thought you had to use “popping” corn, the firmer rounder kind. As Adam documented, his microwave corn shriveled up when he added the hot syrup. You make it look so easy!

  • Nic
    March 18, 2005

    Thanks, Jessica. My theory on why Adam’s ‘corn didn’t work is that because he poured the corn into the caramel, the steam from the pot made the popcorn soggy. Baking it in the oven after you put on the caramel also helps to dry out the popcorn.

  • Samantha
    March 18, 2005

    Hi Nic,

    Just found your great site via Becks and Posh. So many recipes I want to try. The popcorn looks awesome, I saw a recipe for a spicy bbq sauce I *have* to make, a yogurt cake with a glaze… yum!

    Have a great weekend!

  • McAuliflower
    March 18, 2005

    Nic, I’m virtually gobbling your popcorn- yum! I’m finding that my vanilla measurements have been getting larger whenever I bake now… glad to see someone else using Tablespoons (too bad it’s getting so darn expensive).

  • Alice
    March 18, 2005

    Yum, caramel corn!! I’m also surprised that the microwave popcorn worked so well…it seems pretty salty, but salty does sometimes make sweet taste even better! It’s been years and years since I’ve had homemade caramel corn…I remember my grandma used to make it when I was little and we all loved it so much!

  • Emily
    March 18, 2005

    i looove caramel corn!! like munch n crunch?? i don’t remember the name. but the one that comes with peanuts at the store. what a great idea to make it at home, though. must taste 10x better! looks fantastic.

  • Julie
    March 19, 2005

    Nic, this looks delectable. I’m also a big fan of vanilla, so I’m sure I’d love this.

  • Nic
    March 19, 2005

    Samantha – I’m glad you like the site! I hope you like the recipes, too.
    McAuliflower – I heard that vanilla priced should be dropping soon. I’m halfway out the door to stock up already!
    Alice – I think that the little extra salt actually helps balance the sweetness a bit. And makes it more addictive, of course!
    Emily and Julie – I’ll warn you guys that once you start eating this, you won’t be able to stop! Sometimes that’s a good feature in a snack, though. =)

  • pinkcocoa
    March 19, 2005

    hi nic
    Caramel popcorn *yum* I particurlay like those corn with extra caramel stuck on. How clever of you to combine microwave corn with caramel! I would never have thought of that. 🙂

  • chronicler
    March 19, 2005

    I can’t believe I didn’t think of caramel corn! I love popcorn! You made it look so easy too! I can hardly wait to make some, maybe tonight.

  • Nic
    March 19, 2005

    Pinkcocoa and chronicler – Microwave ‘corn really does make it easy! And who doesn’t like shortcuts in the kitchen at least once in a while.

  • Lyn
    March 19, 2005

    Yum. Yum. Yum. What a stellar idea! Like I said, the best tasting things are most oftne the simplest…

  • Ana
    March 19, 2005

    What an interesting idea. I’m not much of a popcorn lover but I sure love vanilla and caramel. If I try it…who knows! I might end up liking popcorn too.

  • Anonymous
    March 19, 2005

    wow this looks good! mm mmm..

    -gwenda (of taott.ipadder.com)

  • Nic
    March 20, 2005

    Lyn, Ana and Gwenda – Thanks! I guess you can’t get much simpler than sugar and vanilla. And sugar and vanilla with something salty – heaven!

  • Jennifer
    March 20, 2005

    Nic –

    I was going to make caramel corn if you can believe it…but then caramelized bananas and dulce de leche called me from the kitchen and I couldn’t do it – I simply had to make something with chocolate. I wonder if there is such a thing as chocolate caramel corn? We’ll be the inventors if not!

  • Nic
    March 20, 2005

    What a decadent idea, Jennifer! I bet that chocolate caramel corn would be a showstopper to take over to a casual party or BBQ. I hope I can get around to making some soon…

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