Yesterday was brutally cold and windy in New York City and although I generally tune out when people complain about being bored, I was. I admit it. Jacob and I take a walk somewhere, anywhere — seriously, I may or may not have used “Let’s go buy mama some bourbon!” as an excuse to leave the apartment one recent day — everyday. Even if it is cold; that’s what the snowsuit and hat and footmuff and knit blanket (“We lost the baby!”) are for, right?
But yesterday’s weather bested us, and it was a long morning of This Is New York, Tiny Monkey and Jacob chewing on his girlfriend Sophie’s ears before I said, “That’s it! We’re making popcorn!”
It turned out to be an excellent idea. I had intended to make this Spicy Caramel Popcorn from The Craft of Baking in the whirl of holiday gift-worthy treats but talked myself out of it after it seemed everywhere I clicked, another drool-worthy take on caramel popcorn appeared. I guess it is having a moment, huh? I haven’t tried those other recipes so I cannot compare them, I can only tell you that this here is good, very good. And very surprising.
It is salty. And spicy. The caramel isn’t accented with salt and heat, it is balanced with it; they’re all equal players out on the field. And the peanuts make you feel like you’re eating Cracker Jacks, for grown-ups. Minus the prize, that is, unless you went on a bourbon run too.
One year ago: Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts Oh you should really make these too!
Spicy Caramel Popcorn
Adapted from The Craft of Baking
This is a salty, spicy grown-up caramel popcorn — the taste will surprise you if you are expecting traditional caramel popcorn, and may delight you if you were never into the original.
That said, you might want to dial back both the spice and the salt a little, which is why I include the amounts in a range below. For example, DeMasco suggests using 1 1/2 tablespoons of Kosher salt, I used coarse sea salt instead, which is actually a little less salty, and still found the end result to be quite salty. It is harder to advise you on cayenne levels, as the amount you want to use will hinge on two factors: how much heat your jar of cayenne packs and how much heat you like in your food. The last time you used the suggested amount in a recipe, did it blow the roof of your mouth off, despite the fact that you actually like food with a kick? Mine has, many times, so I measured conservatively.
Want to make a traditional caramel popcorn with no spice or nuts? Just skip the cayenne and peanuts and use only a pinch of salt.
Note: Your volumes will look different from mine in the pictures because I only made a half-batch. Yes, I regretted it.
Makes 4 quarts
Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 cups salted peanuts (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see Note)
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt (see Note)
Lightly coat two large, heatproof rubber spatulas, a very large mixing bowl and two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or a thin slick of oil.
In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared bowl, removing any unpopped kernels. Toss with salted peanuts, if using.
In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper.
Have the two large baking sheets ready. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 cup water. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, 10 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking-soda mixture (the mixture will bubble up).
Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and don’t fuss if it doesn’t all come out of the pot — you’ll have plenty. Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.
Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate them into small pieces while still warm. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to two weeks or two minutes, if you’ve got a family like mine.
267 comments on spicy caramel popcorn
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never made it in any form before – but I really want to try!
Oh dear, I think I have died and gone to popcorn heaven.
Looks soo yummy…my sister and I were going to make caramel popcorn for gifts, but we broke down and bought it…maybe now we might try our hand at the whole caramel popcorn making deal…Thanks Deb for another wonderful post!!
Caramel popcorn has been an obsession in my house lately–I made several holiday giveaway batches and several more when we had company in town. I’ve been making mine lain, with large handfuls of sea salt thrown in for contrast, but I can see how spice would work nicely, to, especially as a start to a grown-up meal, with champagne!
Looks yum…I love to make caramel popcorn, and it’s so much better with nuts. Pecans are really good. Just throwing that out there, in case nobody ever said it before. But this looks good, too. Really good.
This will have to wait until after my New Year’s Day brunch, but there are people in my life who need to have this in their lives.
Do you think there would be any difference if the popcorn was popped with an air popper rather than in oil? Does the oil help glue everything together? I can’t wait to try this!
Air popper works fine!
Can’t wait to try this! I love sweet and spicy!
Oh, zizz! Gee, delish!
Wow- my husband and I just popped some popcorn… I think I’m going over to the stove to make the rest of this recipe. Thanks!
Like Kettle Corn on ‘roids. Can’t wait to give this a whirl.
I recently blogged about DeMasco’s Spicy Carmel Corn. Isn’t it wonderful stuff? We gave it away as adult goody bags at baby girl’s birthday party/ holiday open house. I’ll definitely be making it again.
What is this, an variation on NaBloPoMo? I’ve been thrilled and surprised to come here over the past few days to find so many new recipes! Thanks, Deb! I made the Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread yesterday for my future in-laws, and they LOVED it! And it was so easy to make!! :)
I truly love caramel popcorn! I’ve only made with a kit. LOVE the spicy addition!
I have a spicy brittle recipe that sounds similar to this and it is just fantastic! I love spicy, salty, and sweet combined. That would make an excellent gift, if you had any left!
Whoa, that looks SO. GOOD. Salty/spicy caramel popcorn is brilliant … now I’m thinking about other ways to add heat (black pepper? Ancho? Chipotle?) to experiment with. YUM.
I’ve never even popped popcorn that wasn’t in a bag, and I’m not thinking this has been a culinary oversight. You’ve intrigued me.
I’m not sure if I can mess with traditional caramel popcorn. I just love it too much. But the husband might be a fan of this, since he loves some savory with his sweet!
Just saw caramel popcorn on Orangette a few days ago – I think it’s time I finally make some now!
Mmm…bourbon. Love it. And since we live in KY, we don’t even have to go out for it. We just flag down the Bourbon Man when he drives through the neighborhood in his van with that jingly song piping out through the speakers.
Ok, not really. But almost.
Cracker Jack was the candy of choice in my house when I was a kid. So this is definitely a good fit for me. Thanks!
This looks 1000 x better than the mess we always receive in the tin around Christmas time. I’m skeptical about the cayenne pepper, but I’m hooked on the salt/sweet combo.
I put cayenne in everything these days, even cereal (home-grown, home-ground). (Okay, maybe not cereal. [Sinks head in shame] Okay, yes, I’ve tried it in cereal.) I’ve even had it in mochas, which is surprisingly good (not so much the cereal)….
I’ve got to make this for my husband he will love it!
Looks delish! May I also suggest baking the caramel corn in a 250 degree oven for an hour stirring every 20 minutes? It really adds another dimension of yumminess and also helps the caramel to really melt on appropriately. Yum!
Ooh, you may have just solved my What Sweet Thing Should I Bring To Our Friends’ NYE Party quandary. Hooray!
Question – do you think air-popped popcorn would work here?
Bria and others that asked about air-popped popcorn — I see no reason why you can make it any way you prefer. I am sure it will work just fine. P.S. I had no idea so many people still had air-poppers! I’m obviously out of touch.
Fiona — I started reading that story and thought “she’s telling me this JUST to torture me!” I am very gullible.
Bourbon — We love Basil Hayden but a good friend just got us something called Eagle Rare as a now-you-can-drink-again! gift and it is delicious. If all goes well, I might be talking about some bourbonish stuff tomorrow.
I’m already obsessed with popcorn. This might just put me over the edge! :)
I am sure I can make that for my kids and husband. They would all love it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts/experiences with the salt in this recipe. It’s always better to start with less and add more than having too eat too much salt!
oh yum! I am going to be trying this soon-i love sweet and spicy treats;) thanks so much.
What kind of bourbon do you drink? I’m a vodka gal myself, but bourbon seems so festive and wintery.
Looks yummy! I laughed at your comment about the bourbon!!!
This looks really good :)
And makes me want to go on a bourbon run of my own right about now…
Oh my! I just made some caramel popcorn last week for a party and it got rave reviews…however I just got this same cookbook for Christmas and now I’ll definitely have to try this recipe out to compare. Love the idea of adding some spice in there.
Wow that looks/sounds amazing. I love anything coated in sugar, even more points if it’s sweet AND salty.
I’m pretty sure I could eat this all day.
I have been making my grandfather’s recipe for caramel corn for years — but I think this sounds worth making a change. Although might I suggest pouring the popped corn in a large brown paper bag, pouring the caramel in on top, rolling the bag shut and shaking well — it works really well to coat the popcorn, and doesn’t make a mess at all (perfect for me, the notoriously messy cook). Then just pour the coated popcorn onto a baking sheet to cool. Looks absolutely delicious!
One other suggestion: once you’ve shaken the caramel and popcorn together, just cut the bag open to lay flat on a table or counter for cooling, rather than using a greased baking pan. (You’re going to be throwing the bag away anyhow, right?)
Also, a comment about the paper in paper bags most of us have access to not being food grade: that is true, I’m sure, but the bag gets coated with excess caramel and the popcorn you’ll actually eat never touches it, so I’m thinking this mitigates any exposure. ;)
That sounds wicked good. I love sweet and salty, I bet spicy could only make it better!
I made this a couple of weeks ago, and your caution regarding the cayenne addition is spot-on. Our cayenne is seriously spicy, but without thinking, I went ahead and put in the whole 3/4 t. Eep! The corn was hot, but wow, it was tasty.
*SNORT* “…chewing on his girlfriend Sophie’s ears …” was one of the funniest lines eh-vuh. And the popcorn looks delish too.
I really want to make this…NOW!
I’ve seen this recipe on several other websites, but their photos were not nearly as pretty as yours! 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt is a lot – even for that quantity of popcorn! It’s great that you included a note/warning about that.
I wish you a fantastic 2010!
So funny about the girl friend’s ear, get used to it.
I have a bottle of really good bourbon, part of it anyway, waiting for something so bring it on.
I was at a restaurant recently that served up salted butter caramel sauce with a dessert and it was FANTASTIC – I had seen the recipe here but not been brave enuf to try it.
And now you add it to the delights of popcorn – I can feel my resistance completely fading away LOL
BTW I have seen it mentioned several times that cooking in the oven after coating is an improvement?
I confess that I haven’t made the popcorn, but I made the sugar and spice candied nuts on Tuesday and I think my world changed! In a good way… BUT I have a question.. I used almonds (raw, unblanched) and they were incredible. And I usually only like almonds ground.. and I used macadamias (raw, blanched) and they weren’t very nice, almost burnt tasting. Do you know if that was because of the blanched/unblanced factor or just coincidence..
Hope you have a very happy new year.
Claire — Macadamias are very oily; may just have had a lower burning point than almonds which are much less oily.
Perfect! I’m going to a party tomorrow (and another one on Friday). Popcorn away!
Deb…I am amazed (and thrilled) that you are posting daily again! Yeah for us!
I love popcorn and caramel. This looks amazing! Oh- Jacob is adorable in his snowsuit, too!
This looks so good! I over-bought popcorn at Costco when it was on sale, so I have been looking for ways to use it up!
This looks like the most amazing caramel corn ever!!!
This looks delicious! I’ll have to make it :)
Yum!! I just made some hot chocolate cookies the other day that took Cayenne and I loved the kick it added. I am sure this would be just as yummy!
Does the popcorn keep well? I’ve shied away from making it since I really want to make it for a friend, but would have to whip it up a few days in advance. I was going to ask about air-popped, but it looks like you already answered!
Laura — DeMasco says that it keeps for two weeks.
I have a science question for you: What purpose does the baking soda serve in this recipe? Also, do you think it’s really necessary to add it? Thanks in advance, and Happy New Year to you and yours!
Amy — The baking soda makes the caramel airier and less brittle. It’s a fantastic addition; don’t skip it.
We are popcorn addicts around here…lunch, dinner, whenever. I always make microwave caramel corn at Christmastime, but I’m not sure this would be adaptable to that method. Nonetheless, I shall give it a whirl. It’s hard to beat the sweet, salty, spicy combination.
*For those of you who love popcorn, (by popcorn, I mean real, make it yourself, not from a bag full of chemicals, popcorn. Yes, I have issues!), but want to cut down on the fat calories, you know, so you can load it with real butter, I highly recommend Presto’s Power Pop:
http://www.amazon.com/Presto-04830-PowerPop-Microwave-Multi-Popper/dp/B00005IBXK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1262216614&sr=8-1 We’ve been using one for almost 20 years, and it can’t be beat. Some Targets and WalMarts sell them and their necessary power cups.
Happy Popping, and thanks, Deb!
(Just received my first bottle of bourbon for Christmas…won’t be my last!)
We’ve just finished off the last of the caramel popcorn balls that my son helped make to decorate the Christmas tree (now a family tradition). Can’t wait to try this adult version for the BBQ we’re having later today for New Years Eve (as we live in Australia and it is the middle of summer I’m treating it like a traditional 4th of July BBQ complete with fireworks at 9 and midnight). FYI: you can shape the caramel popcorn into balls with buttered hands at the point you’re separating them into pieces. When cooled, fill cellophane bags and tie with ribbon to hang on the tree or to give away as gifts (from the Joy of Cooking and Martha Stewart’s Christmas). By the way, we use air-popped popcorn and it works great with no pots to wash!
Can’t wait to try this!
Tried this as soon as I saw it, save the time it takes to drive to the store for butter.
I set my pot holder on fire, twice, while popping the popcorn and I think I let my caramel got a little to long. Has a slight burnt sugar taste but is still very enjoyable.
Thanks for the quick and easy treat. I now feel like I have accomplished something today!
Good God, I made half the amount of caramel for the full amount of popcorn and peanuts, and it was still waaaay too much! I’d probably use 1/4 of the caramel…but to each her own!
I just made this moments ago and LOVE the added heat at the end. I’ve never made caramel before and spent a good 15 minutes trying to clean the saucepan. I think it was worth it, though! :)
Sophie is my 5 month old’s girlfriend too! His very favorite toy. A friend visited France this summer and brought one home to give the baby, she says Sophie is the first toy most French babies receive!
I make a microwave caramel popcorn all the time (with air popper and brown paper bag methods), and I’ve wondered about spicing it up before, but didn’t want to burn the spice.
I *love* the idea of adding some spice in with the baking soda! Why didn’t I think of this before? Will try very soon! Thank you!
Thanks, Deb. I’m going to make this for a NYE party tomorrow and I’ll let you know how the air popped method works. FWIW, I bought mine a few years ago when I was doing Weight Watchers. Oh! And if you’ve never had popcorn from Iowa before, let me know and I’ll send you some. It’s better than any popcorn you’ve ever had, seriously. My in-laws live there and keep us in proper supply.
@RD – whenever you have something sugar-based, like caramel, put warm water in the pan and let it sit. Sugar dissolves :)
Oh dear, I am scared to try these… your homemade Oreos have been the death of me these past couple of months!
Oh this is just cruel. I’m holed up in bed, doped up on hydrocodine and antibiotics with two ice packs draped around my head, nursing wounds from the four wisdom teeth I had pulled this morning and you made POPCORN? And not just any popcorn, only the most delicious popcorn I’ve ever laid eyes on. I can’t even eat solid food let alone something as sticky and precarious as this (in fact, popcorn, nuts, and caramel were the three things the doctor specifically said not to eat). This seems like a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. When I’m fully healed (which feels like it will never happen at this point) I’ll eat this to celebrate. Thanks for the tantalizing recipe!
Also, your baby pictures are darling. It seems like you’re very much enjoying your little one!
I love reading your blog and looking at the pictures. How is it possible that a photo can make me begin to salivate so quickly or that something I’ve never tried suddenly looks so appetizing! Thank you for opening my eyes to the vast world of food! And I’m making this tomorrow on my day off… just as a treat to me! Happy New Year!
Deb, I saw this recipe and was propelled immediately to the kitchen! It turned out wonderfully! We live in China, and I used commonly available already spicy peanuts plus just a dash of cayenne; it was just perfect. My only question was about the syrup mixture…I wasn’t sure what “light golden-yellow caramel” looked like exactly. Some of the popcorn was nicely coated with a brittle, shiny coat, and some was a bit more granular and cloudy. This is a fussy point, it is still delicious, but should I have cooked the caramel longer? Do you have an estimate with a candy thermometer?
Thanks for a great recipe, everyone at our new year’s eve party will be enjoying it too!
MmMmMmMmmm! That looks amazing! My air-popper broke recently, which prompted my discovery that non-stick pans are a great substitute. There is no need to add any oils, and the corns pop up light, fluffy, healthy and delicious as though they came straight from the air-popper. This also works with “non” non-stick pans, but you just have to be a bit more watchful! Hope this helps! :)
@zebbie – I’ve done a LOT of testing of various candied popcorn recipes using air popped popcorn and stove top popped using oil. I haven’t seen any difference in how well the candy (caramel, toffee, etc) sticks to the popcorn.
@epicurette in new york – so sad you’ve only popped pre-packaged microwave popcorn. There really is such a difference when you are in total control of the flavors (and additives) in the popcorn. You also then have the opportunity to use different varieties of popcorn in your recipes – hulless popcorn, mushroom popcorn, etc.
@amanda – not sure if you really want to heat up a non-stick pan to the temperature needed to properly pop popcorn – as I understand it, non-stick pans aren’t really made for dry heating and *may* give off harmful gases. It would probably be better to use a cast iron pan or even dutch oven with a little less than a single layer of kernels on the bottom. Using less than a full layer will give some room for the kernels to move around and keep you from having to shake a heavy pot!
Deb, since you were on the bourbon kick anyway, you could have added between a teaspoon and a tablespoon just before adding the baking soda – spiced bourbon popcorn is pretty nice. Adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract just before the baking soda would also round out all the flavors in the recipe.
To take the recipe to another level, you could try it with mushroom popcorn – big fluffy balls of spicy caramel goodness.
This looks absolutely mouth watering. I will have to try and make this for my husband this New Years. Thanks and Happy New Years!
Oh Deb, you and your blog are oh so magical. I have a one year old, am lucky if I get my first cup of coffee by noon (it had been a valiant effort since 7am), my arms, feet, and stroller effortlessly gravitate towards Basil Hayden and, thanks only to your blog, my husband occasionally gets fed. Thanks for past, present, and future recipes!
I made this tonight as a movie snack for my husband and son. They just powered through it. We all thought that the heat from the cayenne was just the perfect hit at the end of the bite. The flavors seemed to unfold as you ate it. I tasted sweet then buttery and salty then heat. What a great combo! Thanks, Deb.
This looks so wondeful that I really want to try it, but I don’t have good results
with candy unless I have a temperature to aim for. Do you have any idea to what temp. I should boil the caramel?
hi from sunny south africa.
This is just a TIP: Take a brown paper bag or brown paper Envelope
add your 1/2 cup popcorn kernels into the bag.. Close the bagenvelope
pop it in the Microwave for +- 3min on high. (you can re microwave all the un popped kernels in the same bag.)
No oils, no butter, no pots, no pans needed.
made this last night. I must have let the caramel go too long as it harden quickly and sugar had a funny look when it was on the popcorn(not like your photo). It was light golden and went about 13 minutes. I will try again, but could have cried as I threw it out! Hub wouldn’t eat it nor I!
I love a good caramel corn. THis looks addictive!
Happy New Year Deb and thank you for a new take on popcorn. I love the stuff and there was a time when I would eat popcorn every night in the winter. I have been surfin the web looking for plain old popcorn ball with a hit of cinnamon but I think I will go with your recipe. Yipee! sounds so good.
This isn’t about caramel popcorn, though that looks “yum!”, it’s about “…lost the baby!” What a precious kid (the fish-face one at Flickr is priceless). Hold him and love him and kiss him and blow-bubbles on his belly A LOT, because in about 6 quick years, maybe 7, he will wriggle free and frown when you try to kiss him. He’ll secretly still love it, but it will be the beginning of his manly-man phase. Little boys are the best (my grandson is 20 and back to liking kisses).
Popcorn is my favorite “food group” :) I think you are suffering from “cabin fever”. Back in the early 70’s when we lived in Iowa with two little ones and another one on the way and 100 days of snow cover on the ground the last thing I wanted to do was bundle everyone up in all their garb and go out so I learned to cook, bake and do anything in the kitchen to make it warm and cozy and keep the winter days out. Your popcorn sounds wonderful.
I’m with MW. When I found out I could just throw popcorn into a brown bag and microwave it..well, I’ve never gone back to the oil in the pan way! And, no clean up. Just hit the popcorn button and when the constant popping stops, open the door. Repop and remaining popcorn.
Okay – I finally had to post – I am totally, completely in love with your site – your writing, your photos, your recipes, your sensibility – so in sync with my own it’s scary. The “This is New York” link is what sealed the deal. I am a sort of new mom too – I have an 18 year old, a 13 year old and now a 1 year old baby boy – the “This is…..” series is my gift to him as I discovered these books long after my older 2 were beyond the reading-to stage.
And caramel popcorn is only one of my favorite things in the whole world.
Your site is a little gift I give myself every day Deb – happy happy new year!
When I made this the caramel was chewy and wrong! It dragged the whole thing down! Couldn’t really eat it. Should I have cooked it longer? Used a candy thermometer?
I love this combination–I’ve done sweet and hot separately, but not together. Thanks for the terrific idea, and happy new year……..
I’m sorry — all I can think of along with this glorious recipe for this stuff is drizzling CHOCOLATE over it a bit here or there. Whaddya think?
Oh, I am recently in love with caramel corn after spying it on Orangette’s blog. I’ve made it twice in the last two weeks. In response to the above question regarding temperature for the caramel, I heated mine to 250 degrees and it worked beautifully. I love the idea of adding some heat to it with cayenne. Orangette’s recipe calls for putting the corn in a low oven for an hour, stirring every so often to better coat the popcorn. I added chocolate chips during that phase and it was seriously delicious.
Happy New Year!
I am bringing this to a party tonight and cannot wait to try some myself.
Perhaps I prepare a batch for me and this cold rainy new years eve, and another batch for everyone else’s too. Yum.
I haven’t made caramel corn in ages, and this looks like the perfect afternoon treat!
That is TOO funny that you decided to post this recipe. My husband bought me “The Craft of Baking” for Christmas and then proceeded to tell me one of the top reasons he bought the book was for the caramel popcorn. Maybe I’ll have to actually make it now :) Made the spiced nut recipe you posted last Dec. and they turned out great with pecans and almonds.
Not explicitly food-related, but curious to know: Is Sophie extra-delicious, and sublimely useful? We’re expecting our first wee one this spring, and I keep seeing her pop up everywhere — seems to be a mandatory item for the tiny humans!
Mmm, this looks delicious! Thank you for sharing!
Recipes like this one are why I bought a WhirleyPop! If you don’t have one and you love popcorn, I highly recommend them. They are stovetop cookers that don’t require much oil to create the perfect popcorn and you don’t have any guesswork about kernels and doneness. Re: no hot kernels come zooming out of the pan if you lift the lid to see how popped the corn is, which I have learned from experience can be dangerous (albeit mildly humorous) Can’t wait for my workweek to be over so I too can experience the sweet heat!
This looks great and I love the addition of the spicy heat. I confess I have never made carmel corn before, we had a wonderful friend that made it each year. I think maybe he would have approved of this one. Have a fantastic New Year! -LeslieMichele
My theory is that just about anything is tasty with a tall bourbon and soda! This popcorn is interesting though. NEver loved Cracker Jacks but that was when I was young and couldn’t have that tall bourbon and soda to wash it down with.!
That looks like such a great “rainy-day” activity. When I’m bored, I make ketchup from scratch, but this is hands down more fun and delicious.
this looks delicious. i love spicy anything….i’m such a fan of your blog!
We having a few people over last minute for Wii and wine tonight, so I wandered over hear to find some nibbly to serve. Lo and behold, look what I find staring back at me. Sometimes, you’re just too good Deb.
I love treats like this! Comfort, comfort, comfort…
I would eat this popcorn while I’m working on other dishes in the kitchen!
Like my Arroz con pollo.
Thank you for another tasty treat,
I just made a batch.
I found some lightly salted cocktail peanuts, and used the smallest amounts of salt and cayenne specified here, and I’m happy with the result. The heat kicks in just enough that you know it’s there, but not so much that it’s all about the heat. I’m guessing that my light hand with the salt was okay – I don’t taste saltiness at all, but the sweetness isn’t as cloying as I’d expect something made with caramel. (And I guess that’s a good sign?)
Eh. I’m off to eat the entire sheet pan now. Yum! Thanks, Deb.
I love you! Last year I had a terrible caramel corn failure, but this recipe worked without a hitch! I used Japanese 7 spice in place of the cayenne because that was what I had on hand and it is truly delicious. But maybe not as delicious and your delectable baby. I swear, that boy is going to get me pregnant.
One of my favorite memories I have of my Grandmother while growing up is of the two of us making caramel popcorn… thanks for the trip down memory lane. :)
Hahaha…thanks for reminding me to pick-up some more bourbon :)
Oh my, Yum! Oh my dear thighs!
I used smoked cayenne (chipotle pepper) instead and it gave this extra layer of flavor…Your blog is just the best! Keep it up!
We made the full batch of this last night (no nuts) and it was delicious! We used bagged popcorn because it was on hand, and still tasted great. We ate almost the whole batch so might have to make again tonight! Do you think it would have a little more of a caramel taste if we replaced some of the white sugar with brown?
Deb, no lie–I just signed on to the site to see if you had anything cool to do with popcorn (because, um, it may be the only thing in my pantry right now) and it’s like you read my mind! Uncanny!! Thanks for giving me a before-party project!
I will preface this by saying I am a cooking novice and this recipe is REALLY delicious! But I did run into a few issues I thought I should share for any other cooking novices out there reading.
I tried to make this as easy as possible in my small kitchen, so:
I used air popped popcorn (worked out great)
Used too small a saucepan and kept having to take the caramel off the heat so it wouldn’t bubble out of the pan~use a larger sauce pan next time.
Used the paper bag tossing method that sounded so easy~maybe you’re supposed to double bag~I wound up dribbling/spraying hot caramel all over my kitchen floor, much to my dog’s delight!
Thanks for a delicious recipe (& a learning opportunity), Deb! :)
Sounds awesome…I make a peanut butter popcorn that is sweet, but I like spice & sweet. Love hot pepper and dark chocolate..yum
I tried this recipe out this afternoon and it was deeee-lish. Thanks for your note about the cayenne pepper. I used just 3/4 tsp and it was plenty! Did anyone else have trouble getting the caramel to coat all the popcorn evenly? I found some of the popocorn kernals were bathed in it, and some had to live without any. I wonder if I just didn’t let it heat long enough, so it was really runny? Great recipe, thanks for posting.
I had seen another caramel corn recipe the other day that sounded awesome, but I lost it! Your post must be a sign that I am meant to make caramel corn this weekend.
May have to make this tonight for New Years Eve, to be washed down by a Benediction or two- (see recipe for this Benedictine champagne cocktail in a recent NY Times!) At first I thought you were reading your baby “Here Is New York,” by E.B. White, a bit precocious, I thought, but then again it is never too soon to start him on the most wonderful books. I made your Pear Bread yesterday morning and the black bean tacos for lunch today. It is you I have to thank for the fact that my family thinks I am a goddess, but YOU are the Goddess. I am so glad you’re here! Happy New Year, Deb!
As soon as I saw this, I got up from the couch and headed straight for the kitchen. We’re hitting a small football watching party tonight, and the hosts love popcorn…I’ve already prepared sausage balls to take, but had to make this. The caramel is bubbling away right now…can’t wait to try the finished product!
Many blessings in the New Year!
ooooooh yeah baby! just made this and it is goooooooooooooooood, maybe next time with chipotle powder
I just made this to take with me to the movies tonight. I only made a quarter batch and I can tell you – it may not even make it into the movies, I’m going to eat it all in the next 5 minutes! Too good for words!
Um … you should probably put in a warning about just HOW MUCH the carmel bubbles when you whisk in the baking soda. I doubled the recipe, but made the mistake of still only using a medium saucepan. Added the baking soda and BOOM! Kitchen disaster! Me, the floor, and my husbands new flannel PJs (which I was wearing) are coated in a thin layer of carmel. :(
The carmel corn tastes delicious, though. :D
this pales in comparison to any caramel popcorn i’ve seen…and there’s some sitting on my dining room table right now. this recipe looks faaaaantasic!!
What am I doing wrong??? I am on batch 5 of the caramel – I have vowed to not let the caramel corn defeat me!….. After 10 minutes cooking, the first batch looked “light golden brown,” but as soon as I added the baking soda and cayenne, the mixture became sugary again. I tried the suggestion of one of the posts to heat to 250 degrees, but the mixture reached that after only a couple of minutes and was nowhere near golden looking.
Teri#117 – Mine started to change from that light sunny yellow to a darker yellow (I wouldn’t call it golden) at about 8 minutes. I removed it from the heat at that point and added the soda and cayenne. The sugar is super hot and will continue to cook off the heat. When you add the soda..it cooks faster as it foams up and lightens so the heat really frys it at that point and it darkens swiftly. So..take it off heat when it no longer looks ‘yellow’. Really watch it closely between 7-9 minutes for changes.
I think what you make is amazing.
You are amazing.
Spicy and sweet? I’m in.
Do you think Pistachios would work in this?
I have two big bags in the freezer and was thinking about using this recipe for a Super Bowl soiree.
Wow, yum! I made gingerbread popcorn this year for the first time. I may have to try this. Happy New Year!
I made these today – a perfect snack for new years day on the couch with DVD’s!
Thanks for adding so many great recipes to my repertoire over the years, and Happy New Year!
I made this for a NYE party and it was eaten before, during and after the main meal. Everyone thought it was delicious. Thanks!
I’m not a cooking newbie but I tried to make this tonight and it was a disaster… many, many things went wrong. I think I’ll stick to the grocery store stuff!
Yummy! I’m definitely going to make this. I wonder if cashews would be good with it instead of peanuts?? My husband is a cashew-a-holic and my son just discovered how good they are good.
Can’t wait…thanks so much, hon!
I just made this, but I think I let the caramel cook a little too long! Will just have to try again. ;) Also I added a few choc chips on top of mine and used cashews.
I have to admit I’ve never made stovetop popcorn. When you say to keep the pan moving until all the kernels are popped, I’m probably overthinking this, but do you really have to keep it moving constantly? I’m picturing shaking around a big lidded pot while trying to keep it over the flame, and it seems awkward. How did everyone do this? Thanks!
I have to make this today. I have all of the ingredients, and it’s cold and it feels like a movie night. I have no excuse not to.
Made the popcorn this morning in addition to your strata. The popcorn was a huge hit. I also added puffed corn cereal from Whole Foods. Came out awesome. I would second the mixing in a paper bag idea. Saved so much time during cleanup.
The paper bags that most of us have around are not made of “food grade” paper.
Finally, when I had an empty house, I made this. Burned the first batch of caramel, didn’t take mine as long as yours. Walked in the other room to change the channel and sha-bang, burned. Cleaned it up and started it again. Didn’t move this time and it was perfect. Thanks for your recipes and pictures. My daughter in college is home and has made your homemade Oreos twice and they are wonderful. Wish I had had blogs to teach me to cook. But then again, I am still learning and enjoying from your inspiration!
Oh, my! This stuff is addictive. I cannot keep my hands out of it. It was very easy to make and clean up was not too bad. Soaking in boiled water makes it quick!
Just made a batch tonight, delicious! Take care not to skip the step of removing unpopped kernels. Biting down on one mixed in the caramelly goodness is no joke.
My husband, who unequivocally hates popcorn, couldn’t get enough of this. Thank goodness, too. I was about to eat the whole batch (I halved it) all by myself.
Another fantastic recipe! Love the sweet/salty/heat combo. I just wanted to say, for the love of everything, wear oven mitts when tossing the hot caramel with the popcorn. I accidentally brushed a caramelled kernel with my knuckle and now it is all blistered. Worth it, though :)
Love this! It is very similar to a recipe I have been using for years from Fine Cooking magazine. Always a hit at parties.
THis stuff is great. We made it for new year’s eve party and was a huge hit. Unfortunately, Im recovering from burn wounds from the hot sugar escaping from the pan. Totally worth it. Question though, at one point it kind of had a powdery texture. It wasnt like smooth coated crunchy popcorn. It was more like like a matte finish but yet still crunchy. NOt appealing to look at. Im wondering what happened.
Thanks for the great recipe. Just made it as a “end of vacation” treat. A few lessons learned: My ratio of popcorn to carmel was way off – really ended up with fully coated, candied popcorn – will double the amount of popcorn next time for the look and ratio you achieved. Also overcooked the carmel and ended up with too much of a burnt sugar taste- think my carmel was ready for baking soda at 5 minutes but didn’t want to go off recipe the first time. I’m sure it will be even better next time!
I made this on Friday with 2 teaspoons of of coarse sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle powder. People were raving about it as adult Cracker Jacks. I didn’t add the peanuts, because it was easier not knowing if someone might have a peanut allergy.
I used unsalted peanuts for the recipe, and thought it required some more salt. So, after the caramel was on and the popcorn was in the pans, I sprinkled salt over the top. It gave a really nice combo in your mouth – almost like salt caramels. I also halved the sugar and substituted 1/2 cup of maple. It was just the right amount of sweet.
Next time I was thinking of adding some smokiness with some smoked almonds, and maybe even some pretzels. Really good base for some creativity!
Made the mistake of whipping this up just before dinner. I never got to dinner… :)
Just made this & cooked the sugar mix for ages; it never did get to the caramel stage…is it supposed to be brown sugar? All the other online recipes for caramel corn call for brown sugar, but I love smittenkitchen the best!
Oh dear… gonna have to try this one soon. I actually have all the ingredients at this moment… fate.
this looks amazing! we made some popcorn on new years – wish i had seen this before then!
HEAVEN! We didn’t have any peanuts in the house, so I made it without, but LORDY this stuff is like CRACK, definately my favorite recipe of my winter staycation.
I just made this and failed.. lol I’m not really sure what went wrong.. maybe my heat was too high? before it hit 10 mins the caramel was turning really brown and then after I coated it it wasn’t shiny or ooey gooey like the kind of caramel popcorn you would buy in a store.. instead it was matte and kind of looked like I rolled them in light brown sugar… kind of hard to describe.
Caramel and I don’t get along :(
I tried this recipe, but I usually rely on a candy thermometer which I didn’t use. My caramel looked perfect when i removed it from the stove but I should have removed it about 2 monutes BEFORE it reached the perfect look! I stirred in the soda and cayenne and it continued to cook and darken up even though I had removed it from the heat. I will try again, but will remove it freom the heat just before it loosk done!
there are no water in the ingredients !
Water is not commonly listed in recipe ingredients; I’m not sure I follow otherwise…
Hi! I tried the recipe and it was a total hit with my friends and co-workers! I took some photos and wrote up a quick note of my experience with the recipe. I think that the most important feedback I have, other than appreciating the ease of the process and also the wonderful combination of flavors, was regarding heat. I used the maximum amount of cayenne suggested in the recipe (3/4 tsp.) and found the spice a touch too subtle– I might up the cayenne to one teaspoon next time and also salt the popcorn as the caramel cools for another twist of flavor. Those are just my preferences! Thanks for passing on another great recipe.
Your photos look fantastic and yummy! Do you have any idea about the conversions for altitude (I’m at about 5000 feet) when cooking caramel? I cooked it for about 16 minutes, and it appeared a light golden color in the pan, but once I poured it on the popcorn I could tell it wasn’t right. It is more of a pale yellow color on the corn, tastes grainy and thick, and is waaaaay too sweet. I’m thinking I didn’t cook it long enough? Any ideas?
I will have to try again, because I am still tempted by those beautiful pictures! Thanks for the recipe!
I’m happy to say I took on the challenge to make my first recipe with you and it was a hit! I have to admit when I first looked over the ingredient and couldn’t understand why caramel was missing from the list. Little did I realize I was making it- and from “scratch” no less! It did take two batches to get it right, but it was spot on the second time around. I will admit I wasn’t expecting the truly, what I would call, exploding caramel once you add the baking soda. I made it for the whole office and everyone loved it. The best part is it takes longer to prepare yourself than it is to make the actual recipe.
Learned about your site in my stocking stuffer O magazine. I see now why you got a mention. Warm, witty and with fabulous photos and recipes. Look forward to sharing my spiced-up popcorn and your site with my friends here in the Middle East! Thank you!
I just made this for a craft party tomorrow. IT’S SO FREAKING GOOD. I am going to have a helluva time staying out of it until then. So. Delicious. Thanks for posting!!
I know a 16 year old boy at boarding school who is going to be very happy to see his mother tomorrow. I just made a batch. Will make sure I follow Just Poppin’s suggetion of bourbon for a grown up twist for next time. Delish! Popcorn nirvana.
Yum!! Just made it with pecans (my son ate all the peanuts while waiting for me to make it…) and it is great!! Thanks for another wonderful recipe, you are my new go-to site for recipes. Happy 2010!
help. first batch was sugary sand. the second batch I cooked lower heat for less time. it is more caramel like but is white like white syrup. should I be using brown sugar? should I be browning the butter?
Hi Amy — If it is white, it didn’t become caramel. If you cook the sugar until it is that dark amber color, it should look and taste like caramel.
This turned out so well! We were scared that I would somehow mess up the caramel mixture, as I have never made anything like it before, but if you just follow the directions, it turns out perfectly. I left out the spice and only used 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. This is a great recipe, and is a pleasant surprise that it only calls for three tablespoons of butter.
Good stuff! I love the salty-sweet-spicy combo so I made this for a get-together with friends. I feared going overboard with either the cayenne or the salt, so I was somewhat conservative with both, though I found my (aged) cayenne could’ve packed a little more punch. My advice: buy fresh if yours has been hanging out for a while.
A note about the clean-up afterward: the leftover caramel will cement itself to the pot with other-worldly strength during the time you’re mixing it with the popcorn and spreading it onto the cookie sheets. There were a few moments when I thought my favorite sauce pan was a total loss. See if you can get your spouse, children or some other dishwashing-capable individual to rinse it out immediately after pouring. But failing that, you can get it up easily by boiling any kind of carbonated beverage in said pot. (In my case, tonic water, though any sort of soda will do.)
I tried this one and even wrote a post about it! I had a terrible time with overcooking the caramel so for my second batch I think I ended up undercooking it, but it was still delicious. Might be up for another try at it tonight to see if I can get it right. And to Penny (#161) — thanks for commenting about the carbonated beverage clean up tip — it saved my pan and my pyrex! Anyway, love this blog — so many lovely recipes and beautiful photos! Thanks!
“and don’t fuss if it doesn’t all come out of the pot”
Wow. You read me like a book, LOL. Great popcorn!
I have to say, I tried this and it came out pretty good, but not worth the time/trouble/mess/cleanup in my teeny tiny kitchen. I think I might have skimped too much on the spice/salt. Also I found myself a tad short on sugar so I put in less sugar and still found it to be plenty sweet.
love this recipe! i only had 2 cups sugar on hand and the caramel still turned out just fine! love the chemical reaction with the baking soda. it’s raining cats and dogs here in california so this is a perfect rainy day treat!!:)
just made this tonight and it is fantastic! I omitted the cayenne so its just regular caramel corn. First batch: didn’t carmelize enough so it was a big lump of sugar popcorn that i wanted so badly to taste like kettle korn. Second batch, perfect! I found out during my caramel pudding botch that in my pans and kitchen as soon as the edges start to turn golden brown, it is ready. If you go past that its burnt. Also I halved everything except the popcorn and got more than enough caramel sauce. So that is my advice as it is super sugary as it is. Also I salted the popcorn as it was drying so it will be a little salty since I didnt have any flaky or corase sea salt. Thanks for the recipe!
You really should be more specific about the caramel part… Very unspecific directions.
I think I overcooked it… but it still makes a good snack (:
Isn’t Sophie the best creation? The little boy I work with has one and it is quite adorable! The popcorn looks delish!
Finally made this after bookmarking it ages ago. Totally worth the wait!
yum! caramel is my personal cooking albatross, but I see how someone w/ skilz (ahem, Deb) would turn out a perfectly delightful version.
Things I learned:
1) baking soda makes it bubble. a lot. oversized pan is a must
2) just because I remove it from the heat doesn’t mean it stops cooking. best to remove from heat before it reaches desired state of caramely goodness
3) hi means the highest heat your stove will go. that said, I’d wait until the sugar melts completely (so as not to boil off too much water) before cranking it up.
Thanks for the great recipe,Deb! This is the 1st time (out of at least a dozen) that I’ve been able to caramelize sugar using the water method (I usually stick to the dry method).
Thanks for such a fun recipe! I air popped the popcorn and shook the popped corn and the caramel in a brown paper bag. It was messy, but everything was well covered. My game night guests couldn’t get enough of it!
I have made this 5 times. The first time, it came out perfectly. The reminaing four times, I threw the results away. Why is my sugar crystallizing and not carmalizing? I must add I bought a new bag of sugar. Do you think that there could be brand diffrences?
This was my first Smitten Kitchen recipe and it will not be my last. I live in Ohio and we just recieved a present from old man winter of 4 extra inches of snow. I needed something warm and yummy that kids would like. The spicy really sent it home for me and the kids. Thank you
Thank you for such easy-to-follow directions! This turned out fabulous.
I burnt the caramel. It was a beautiful yellow color and then I turn around for one second and when I come back its this nasty burnt dark brown
I tried it anyway (ruining all that popcorn) and it was sooo gross. I DO plan on trying it again though. This time keeping a careful eye on that caramel!
Yep, I came here to say that I burned my caramel- or at least overcooked it- but it looks like the last commenter has already warned everyone of the same thing! Really, next time I’ll emphasize the “LIGHT golden yellow” bit… Will try again for sure.
Hi! I made this last night when I was having a sweets craving. I cut everything in half (except for the water…accidentally…oops). It made just enough to fit in a reasonably-sized Tupperware! Super delicious. I did .25 tsp cayenne to make a little tickle of heat in it. This was also my first time making caramel and it came out perfectly, despite my putting too much water in it! Judging by the above comments, I was lucky that it didn’t burn (and that I didn’t get burned). My roommates really liked it!
This is my second go-around at the recipe. The first time, I realize, in retrospect, I burned the sugar, but I have to say: I liked it better that way! The burnt sugar taste with the popcorn was so unusual that the regular version now tastes cloyingly sweet by comparison. Next time, I will go past golden brown to a deeper color (not the dark burnt brown that a previous commenter mentions, but kind of an amber color) when I am cooking the sugar. Thanks for another great recipe.
a friend led me to this site after i lamented my pining for caramel corn similar to that made by a now defunct mall stand. it was GREAT! i will be making another batch to keep at work!
a few notes:
1- i doubled the amount of popcorn and still had plenty of caramel.
2- if you’re a member of the *clean plate club* (as my mom made me to be) *DO NOT* use the brown paper bag method! it’ll be mental torture on your slight OCD tendencies to try to get all the popcorn back out of the bag!
3- using the *oven after* method helps to distribute the caramel better if your “toss” is uneven. if using this, slightly undercook the caramel as it will cook a bit more in the oven.
4- i shied away from the cayenne pepper despite my NOLA roots. it’s still really good though.
5- i will probably use a dash of vanilla extract in my next batch to round out the caramel’s flavor.
Thanks again for posting this recipe! :D
also, a simple soaking in hot water (followed by a run through the dishwasher) worked very well on my pot and utensils.
My girlfriend made this yesterday for Trivia last night. It was delicious – we couldn’t stop eating it! In fact other people kept coming by our table for “just one more bite!” Another smittenkitchen winner!
The pecans were a great idea.
The caramel did not distribute evenly, so I put it in the oven at 325 stirring every 10 minutes or so. All of the heat from the peppers was gone when it was done :(
And if you are going to cook it in the oven, cook the caramel a bit less than you would if you were not going to cook it in the oven. The caramel definitely got darker over the 30 minutes in the oven.
I’ve been really looking forward to making this! My Gram just bought me The Craft of Baking, and I’m somewhat obsessed. I’m REALLY happy you made it, because I love your tips and comments on the recipes. So useful! This will have to wait, though, because Chocolate Pudding Pie is on the menu for dessert tonight. Can’t wait!!
I just made a batch of this for my kid’s school bake sale. I omitted the peanuts & cayenne, given the crowd I am making it for. But, O.M.G. This is fantastic!!!
You’ve got the texture right on. It’s just like cracker jacks! Well, the texture at least…the taste? A thousand times better!
Now, I am thinking of doing a few batches of the spicy for adults to buy. I’m sure that would be even more amazing!
I just made this after a pretty horrific baking weekend. I have been making your Challah recipe for several years now, and have adopted it as my favorite. I burnt the cr*p out of my small challah rolls, and THEN went on to overcook your Babka recipe as well. I had to make a comeback, and made this after Shabbat was over. In Jerusalem microwave popcorn is hideously overpriced, so we always buy the un-popped version. THIS CAME OUT FANTASTIC. Did not use the pepper as my husband is a bit of a spice sissy and it was still delicious. Thank you for providing me with great recipes, time and time again.
High heat for 10 minutes was way too much! I didn’t quite burn it, but about 8 minutes in it was suddenly much, much darker than yours and the smoke alarm went off during the baking soda step :-/
Just made this with toasted Texas pecans hand diced up (with my dough scraper), no spice, but sea salt and then at the end as it was cooling some chocolate chunks.. The chunks still melted some, but I tossed it all again on the sheets and am letting it cool. First tastes prove delicious. One of my daughters has a sleep over tonight and I figure this would be a hit.
Made this today and it came out awesome again. For those who do not light a ton of caramel on their popcorn, you might try popping a full cup of popcorn. It really does make enough caramel to cover double the amount of corn, while still getting good coverage. And, if you double the corn, you don’t get huge clusters so it actually coats more evenly.
this was a lot of fun. i air popped the popcorn (im lazy) and left out the spices. the caramel seemed to be doing well, except for the fact that it was white/clear and grainy even after 20 minutes. of course the split second that i turned to my computer to look up what i had done wrong was the second it chose to turn golden, so it was a slightly overdone caramel, but still delicious. i was in a state of panic, however, when i saw the layer of burnt caramel all over our new all-clad pot. thankfully, someone gave me the advice to fill the pot to the top with water, boil it, and add a cup of baking soda. wait an hour, and all the caramel melts away. hope this helps anyone in a similar situation. i also drizzled some chocolate on at the end, which was (unsurprisingly) delicious. thanks for the recipe!
thx 4 d recipe. i used 1/2 cup corn to half the caramel recipe. it turned out awesome. sweet, salty & spicy, great combo :)
I just finished making this and I overcooked the syrup. I cooked the syrup until it was a nice caramel color and then took it off the heat and added the soda/spice and it started turning a dark red/brown color. I think my all-clad pan held a lot of residual heat which kept cooking it. The flavor isn’t sweet and not salty. I can taste the heat just barely. I will do another batch tomorrow and add all of the salt.
Thank you, smitten kitchen! I made your spicy caramel popcorn for my company’s bake-off competition (along with your crisp salted oatmeal white chocolate cookies) and I won first prize!!! Seeing my coworkers drool is truly a rewarding experience. Thanks for an awesome, unique recipe. The judges called the popcorn a ‘party in their mouth.’ (PS – I added cashews and went heavy on the cayenne… was very pleased with the results).
Okay, I must be the only one who doesn’t pop their kernels on the stovetop. I can’t tell how many cups of popcorn that the 1/2 cup of unpopped kernels produced. How many bags of microwaveable popcorn will I need to make the 4 quarts?
I just got done making my first batch & I have to say… WOW. This is sure to be a big hit at the Superbowl party my husband & I are about to attend. I might make more…
How did I know you would have an amazing caramel popcorn recipe when I need it most? Thank you!
Hi! This was the most awesome gift that I’ve ever received, especially considering it was food, coming from TX to HI! Yes, it made it all the way, and it was truly delicious that years later I am still looking up the recipe. Thank you so much for inspiring my friend to make this for us, and for introducing me to your wonderful site. Aloha!
Hi Deb! First let me say I can spend HOURS on this site just clicking “surprise me!” :)
I gave the above recipe a go last night using brown sugar (in a feeble attempt to make caramel corn “healthy”) and got AMAZING flavor but a somewhat chewy texture. Could this be due to the extra water in the brown sugar? I also live in a ridiculously hot and humid environment–would this affect my results as well?
I’m having the exact same problem as Caron…first TWENTY times (i promised a friend i’d supply her wedding with caramel corn) I made it, I had no problems. and now every batch since then, the sugar has crystallized instead of caramelizing. Help!
I should add that I am using salted butter (and omitting the salt from the recipe)…could this be a reason? Or perhaps I am over-whisking?
I have made this several times and added chocolate chips. Everyone loved it!
Caron, and Julia;
First to Julia; I don’t think it’s the butter, because the first time I made the caramel, it came out great, and I was using salted butter.
Caron; I also used different sugar the second time, and it crystallized on me as well! I switched from pure cane to dominoes, so, maybe it’s that?
I am a true caramel popcorn addict. Came across this recipe and kind of put it on the shelf so to speak. Finally made first attempt last night. Burnt the caramel of coarse. So as not to let it get the best of me, my second attempt was successful. I put the kitchen timer on for 14 minutes and caramel was exactly how I would have first expected it to be, perfect. Highly addictive.
I love this recipe too! And yes the first time I made it, I added the 3/4 tsp of cayenne against my better judgment and we couldn’t eat any without a glass of milk handy. Now I make it with 1/4 tsp and it’s a nice hint. Super addictive — I love that it’s crunchy instead of pull-out-your-teeth-gooey.
I just made about 6 batches of this for co-workers Christmas gifts, and as everything on your site, it always garners rave reviews! I did have trouble with one batch crystalizing and not caramelizing, and I realized I had used baker’s sugar instead of regular. Caron and Julia, perhaps your sugar is too fine? I also want to point out what a ton of people have already mentioned: Pulling the pan off while the caramel looks a shade or two too light is ideal as the caramel darkens as soon as you pull it off the heat and whisk. I tried a ton of different methods to eliminate pan clean-up (using paper grocery bags to coat the popcorn with caramel, doing it in a separate mixing bowl) and found that the easiest method was to just pour the caramel over the popcorn while the popcorn was still in the large stock pot I had used to pop it in. Because the pan was still hot and greasy from popping the popcorn, the caramel spread easier and nothing stuck to the bottom. Also, props to Ali for highlighting the easiest way to clean the small carmel pan. I forgot to add the baking soda but plain boiling water worked just fine. Thanks for the awesome, delicious recipe, Deb! You are a gift from the Gods for making this wonderful site that is full of fool-proof recipes! Can’t wait for your book.
This was the first time making caramel for me, and though it seems a bit darker than how yours turned out (mines more of an amber/copper color), I can’t tell if I burned it or not… I guess it has a little bitter aftertaste, but other than that it seems fine… Thank you for the recipe! The tips for caramel making helped a lot too (I won’t be so scared to make caramel anymore)
Good flavor but way too sweet. I followed the recipe perfectly and just really thought there was way too much coating for the amount of popcorn and thought it was too sweet. Maybe I would have liked it better had there been more popcorn and the carmel coating was spread a bit further to make it less sweet.
Any thoughts on chewy caramel popcorn? You know, buttery, slightly salty, occasionally found in ball form? Love your blog, ordered your cookbook (will hopefully be at my goal weight before it arrives, ha ha), and think your baby is the cutest ever. And I’m really not into babies.
I’ve made this recipe several times now. First time I singed the caramel a bit — not fully burnt, but definitely a bit too dark & ever so slightly bitter. I find (on my stove, at least) it only takes about 6-ish minutes to get to the perfect amber colour, leaving me with a product that looks pretty much exactly like the photos here.
I made it once with brown sugar, when I ran out of regular white sugar, and while it tasted okay, it ended up being a bit chewier than usual. It was also very difficult to tell when the sugar was “cooked” because I couldn’t rely on the colour of the syrup to alert me, so I may have taken it off too soon.
I have also had it end up grainy and crystallized, which I’m pretty sure was just because I jumped the gun and took the sugar off the burner too soon. Anyone else who is having this problem, I’d recommend that when you think it’s ready, just keep a VERY CLOSE eye on it and let it go another 5 seconds or so. The colour does change very rapidly, so as soon as you start to see it visibly change colour, take it off the burner and continue with the recipe.
I hope my comments are helpful!
I might also add that the type of pot you’re using to make the caramel will play a big part in this. My pots are fairly thin (not heavy, cast iron type) so they don’t retain a lot of heat when I take it off the burner. If you’re using heavier pots, you’ll have to take yours off the burner much sooner, as the caramel will continue to cook after you’ve removed it from the heat.
Sorry for the multitude of posts, I just thought I should clarify my last comment:
If you’re using a cast iron pot, it will take longer to heat up the caramel, but you’ll probably want to take the pot off the heat earlier in the caramelization process, that is before it turns amber, so that it doesn’t burn as it continues to cook.
I think that my cook time is shorter than the 10-14 minutes because my pot heats up faster.
Again, I hope these comments are helpful!
I made caramel popcorn last night…I now plan on making it regularly! I made a few mistakes though- I actually FORGOT to add the water to the sugar and butter, but it still turned out ok, although a bit thick. I regretted not adding the cayenne- I think it’s definitely a must to balance all the sugar. I popped just slightly over 1/2 cup of kernels; it was a lot of popcorn to try to mix around with the caramel, even with an extra large bowl. I think if you pop 1/2 cup, it would be easier with a very, very, large bowl that’s slightly on the shallow side. Next time, I’ll probably reduce the amount to 1/3 cup since that was the biggest bowl I have. Thanks for posting the recipe!
I just made this for the first time, and I’m usually terrible with candy. At one point I set the sugary wooden spoon down on a paper towel and accidentally started a small fire, but it was quickly resolved :) My caramel mixture bubbled the entire time, which freaked me out a little bit, but don’t worry if that happens! It all was fine in the end. I added a bit of cinnamon to mine, which I liked a lot. And I sprinkled slivered almonds over the final product to make it look a little more sophisticated. Hoping my family enjoys this Thanksgiving appetizer!
I just made this and it is awesome! I’ll definitely be making it again and will make it for holiday gifts. Thanks.
Deb, I recently saw you in SF when you came out to greet the crowd at Omnivore. I hope that you can come back to SF! You’re cookbook is absolutely wonderful!
My first time making caramel! Burned my first batch but the second was a success. Just FYI mine did not take the full 10 minutes – closer to 8. Watch the caramel yourself and see when you think you need to take it off the burner :)
and omg it was amazing
thank you for bringing this recipe to the web! i made it last night for a movie night and it was absolutely delicious! Can’t wait to make it again.
very crunchy, with a thick carmel coating. I also added pretzels!
Deb, I love you. My hubby and I are starting a themed movie night. He picked this week’s theme (a movie, any movie, produced between 1987-1993), I picked the movie (Wall Street), and themed snack. Flavored popcorn was a food trend of the 80s and caramel corn is gold (Wall Street!). The spice will please him, and the sugar me. This is perfect! I always know you’ll come through for me. Now off to eat some baked pasta with broccoli raab…
Sounds like a great recipe…. since salted caramel and chocolate is my new passion, I’m wondering if you have thought of adding chocolate. Possibly, shaved chocolate. I would think that mini chocolate chips might work as well.
Extremely frustrating! I’ve made 3 batches of this now (and ruined an entire bag of sugar) and all the results are in the trash. Every single time, the caramel turned into an opaque, grainy mess when I tossed it with the popcorn.
I thought I swirled the first pot too much, so I didn’t touch the second one. Then I read that adding corn syrup was the foolproof solution, but even with corn syrup the results were the same. Anyone have advice?
This recipe did not turn out well for me at all! I made it twice and it was disappointing both times. :(
Dee — What happened?
Would love to try and get the flavor to be more like Cracker Jack – molasses-y, kind burnt raisin-y?
Anne — Yikes, I haven’t had them in years but I don’t think it would be harmful to start by adding 1 tablespoon molasses and seeing if it gets you more of the flavor you want.
This sounds delicious. Has anyone tried subbing the cayenne for pumpkin spice and adding some chopped pecans?
I have had several popcorn poppers over the decades… yes I am THAT old… But the style that I have used since 1980 has been the stove top hand crank popper. It is made by several companies and is basically the same. You turn a crank at the end of the handle that in turn moves a wand the width of the bottom of the pot – circulating the popcorn in whatever you are popping it in. If you love popcorn that always is perfect (depending on the popcorn itself), then get the stainless one as it will last longer. You can make Deb’s version. You can make kettle corn (heat oil til it smokes, add corn and stir til one or two kernels pop and dump in a 1/4 cup of sugar and turn the crank like crazy til the popping stops – put popcorn in a large bowl and add salt to taste – using a couple of spatulas to mix it up). Bliss. Or just use EVOO to pop and add salt to taste. Yum. I give them as wedding gifts!!!
I used unsweetened coconut and pistachios because I’m not a peanut fan. Ooooohhhh myyyyy!!!!
I made this successfully a few weeks ago to try it out and was surprised at how easy it was to make! I took some liberties tonight b/c i was running low on white sugar and subbed 1 cup of light brown sugar for one of the the 3 cups in the recipe. The flavor is still good but the caramel is really tacky, stick to my teeth tacky. Is this from the brown sugar or did something else go wrong? Thanks!
@Shannon, if you look up the composition of brown sugar, it has molasses in it. There’s the source of your problem. :-)
I burnt the first batch of caramel (high for 10 minutes was way too long). The second batch was under-cooked, but I used it anyway. The popcorn is good, but the sugar is a little crystallized. I would try it again.
Oscar get together tomorrow night, what to do with a tres boring bag of kettlecorn(they were out of Chicago mix).
This is now officially adult crack corn: I made the syrup put 2 tsp slap ya mama spice in with the baking soda and poured it over the kettle corn.
I added pecans and crystallized ginger to the kettle corn before the pour.
Mixed it up and didn’t matter if there was complete coverage because kettle corn.
Separated it then topped it with a sprinkle of m&m’ sand then put it in my biggest Tupperware . Can’t wait for the Oscars so I can serve this it is ah mahz ing!!
I’ve made this recipe half a dozen times. We love it! And so does everyone who tries it. In fact, I’m making it now!
I split the cayenne in the middle at 1/2 teaspoon. Was delicious but definitely not for the faint of heart! We like spicy and thought it was SPICY :)
Deb, does this kind of caramel corn stick to your teeth, or would you say that the caramel more melts as you chomp down on the popcorn? Someone introduced me to this popcorn http://www.ghcretors.com/chicago_mix/ and it is sososo addicting, but the most fantastic part (other than the salty sweet combo) is that the caramel corn part melts in your mouth instead of clinging to your teeth, and I’m ready to investigate how to recreate it at home :)
Em — I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it sticking to my teeth, on this or other popcorn. Maybe it’s just me? Do you mean clinging to the front of your teeth or like in the dip of your molars?
Deb, it would be more along the “stuck in the dip of your molars” (or in my case, any dips in my teeth sans the few in the front). So a good example would be like eating the stickiest toffee candy or baklava. The small chunks stay forever on your teeth and no mighty toothbrush is going to be able to take them out…maybe it’s the ratio of sugar to butter in the caramel?
I’ve made this twice this month, and it’s turned out great both times. The second time I substituted coconut oil for the butter in the caramel part because my brother can’t eat dairy. It took way longer to caramelize (nearly 20 minutes), but other than that I can’t really tell the difference. I will say that both my batches have been *just* on the edge of over-done but still yummy and edible- I think that I’m not adding the baking soda soon enough, because it seems like it continues to cook/darken after the soda is added. This is definitely going in my “forever” recipe file! Thank you!
I’ve made this vegan, with Earth Balance instead of butter, and it’s amazing!!! I’ve also made it dairy, and I couldn’t tell the difference.
Thanks for the info we were seeking this while we were scanning the internet and your website came up– Many thanks
Is there 3 cups of sugar to 1/2 cup pop corn kernels?
Yes. It makes 16 cups.
Hi Deb! Long time reader, thank you for your many, many recipes over the years. I made both this caramel popcorn and the miso black sesame caramel corn tonight — you write above that 1/2 c of kernels makes 16 cups but in the miso black sesame, the same 1/2 c makes 8 cups.. should the amount of popcorn be doubled in this recipe..? It was good, but very, very sweet, so that may be the issue? Thanks again!
This is so ridiculously good. I’m kind of scared of caramel, but this was easy as pie and i’m going to have a hard time not eating all of it before a staff meeting tomorrow. Thanks so much for another winner Deb!
I made this twice last week and had excellent results. Then, I tried making it again (twice) and it was a grainy disaster. What on earth went wrong? Help!$
I did it again this morning and I have another grainy disaster.😞
The graininess is causes by the sugar recrystallizing not failure to dissolve. A seed particle causes the recrystallization.
Ensure there are no sugar particles on the side of the pan when you start. Then don’t stir. Just watch until it changes color.
Love this recipe!
Deb, do you think this would work with an oil or Earth Balance instead of butter? Thinking about making a variation for vegan friends. Thanks!
This commenter said they did so successfully.
Have you tried with less sugar?
I remember making caramel popcorn balls as a kid and this recipe is the grown-up version! I don’t know why popcorn has to taste so good! Thanks for sharing this recipe!!
I messed up and over cooked the caramel so it became granular again. But the salvageable popcorn is good.
Hadn’t made caramel popcorn before but wanted to try this on a cold, snowy day. Loved it and so did my husband. We got more snow last night so I might even make it again today. I used white popcorn but will probably use yellow (bigger, fluffier) next time. Thank you.
I made this and thought it was excellent! I doubled the popcorn amount, but made the amount of caramel in the recipe and felt like I had plenty. My cayenne might need replacing, but I used the maximum suggested amount and added some aleppo and would use even more next time.
I air popped 1/2 cup of kernels and definitely did not get 16 cups of popcorn. I used just the caramel, not the spice or peanuts, and it’s basically like eating sugar. I am a person who LIKES sugar, but if I made this again I’d use only 1 cup of sugar and adjust other ingredients proportionally. It was way too much for the volume of popcorn.
Great recipe, but because my brain refuses to follow a recipe, I added bacon and maple extract. You’ve got to try it!
We made it without peanuts or cayenne because my kids don’t like spicy hot. It is delicious!
I made this last night to take to work for our Melbourne up party. Looks like it’ll be a hit if my family taste testing it non-stop last night :)
I made this but the caramel didn’t go yellow, did boil it for 14 minutes should have gone longer I guess because it is sugary not crunchy?
I love all of your recipes! I have several favorites that I make on the regular. I just made this recipe, and it tasted really awful, I’m not sure where I went wrong.
I followed the recipe, the sauce ended up being a bit light, so I baked the covered popcorn for a minute to get it dark. It tasted really strongly of baking soda. It looked PERFECT but it tasted like salty baking soda. I am extremely sad and full of shame. Please let me know what I did to destroy your beautiful beautiful artwork.
Hello! I have made this twice and both times the caramel crystallized.. any advice for me? I followed the directions and did not stir. It was kind of hard to tell when it became golden in color, also, because of the bubbling, so maybe I undercooked it?
do i still use the baking soda if i dont use the nuts or spices?
Hi Deb, could cream or more butter be added so it tastes more like real caramel before adding the baking soda? Would it still work?
I am not sure, but I suspect it might be softer.
This is so amazing. I made it for the first time about 10 years ago. My son (now 16) remembered it the other day and asked if I could make it again. SO GOOD! I added salted cashews too. YUM!
very nice post corns are best for health i like you post so much thanks
Every recipe I have read calls for brown sugar, your recipe just says “sugar”. Does it matter?