Praise St. Diabeetus, who in his infinite wisdom saw it fit to bestow unto us, his servants, the addictive and glorious gift of caramel. Blessed are those who have gone before into the hallowed halls of holiday cooking, to worship at the alter of sugar and syrup and pay homage to its many decadent forms. From the sweat of their brow shall happiness and cheer flow out into the world.
And yet, woe unto those who would consume an entire batch of Salted Caramel Popcorn in a single sitting.
Start by making your popcorn. Stove top / air popping is best, but if you’re thumbs without a microwave, I guess a waxed paper bag of processed sadness will do.
Find your big spaghetti pot (the one with a lid) and put it on the big burner. Add 3-4 tbs of boring vegetable oil and 3 kernels of unpopped corn and heat on medium-high with the pan lid on.
When you hear the kernels pop, lift the lid and pour in 1/3 cup unpopped kernels and give the pan a shake to distribute the oil. Put the lid on leaving a gap for air to escape so the popcorn doesn’t steam to death.
Listen for the sound of kernels popping – when the first few start, begin gently shaking the pan but be careful to not knock the lid completely off. This part is oddly crazy stressful, like brain surgery I imagine, but should be over in under 5 minutes.
When there’s a few seconds between pops, remove the pan from the stove, cover the pan, and let the last few kernels pop.
Pour popcorn onto a large baking pan with sides, lined with parchment paper. If you don’t have a cookie sheet with sides, a large jelly roll or broiler pan will work. If you don’t have parchment paper, I don’t envy your cleanup, but spraying PAM or coating of butter in the pan should help.
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 quarts (about 5 cups) popped popcorn
Preheat oven to 250°F
Start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. I used the same non-stick pot I used for the popcorn, but any medium heavy bottomed saucepan will do.
Add the brown sugar, syrup and salt and stir continuously until mixture begins to boil. Once the mix starts boiling, stop stirring, set a timer for four minutes, and walk away. I said walk away. You’re going to be tempted when you see giant rolling bubbles, but resist.
When the timer beeps, remove the pan from the stove and stir for about thirty seconds to cool before adding baking soda and vanilla. Two cool sciencey things happen now – the baking soda will make the candy puff and change to a lighter, more caramel color, and the vanilla if added when the sugar is super hot, will hiss and burn off. Which is cool, but not great for flavor. Baking soda first, then vanilla. Be careful when adding these two fellas, they can wreck your caramel.
If you want to get full salt experience, grab a pinch of Kosher salt and sprinkle it over the popcorn, otherwise start spooning the caramel.
Spoon the caramel over the popcorn, using drizzling motions and being careful to avoid globbing. Don’t worry if you miss spots, you’ll have multiple chances to get those pieces coated with caramel later.
Bake the popcorn for 15 minutes, remove and stir, being careful to scrape up and distribute the melted caramel, before flattening the mix out and returning to the oven. Repeat this three times, for a total of 45 minutes of baking.
During the final 15 minutes, prepare a large buttered bowl and a sheet of parchment paper on a table or other clear surface. When the timer beeps, remove the pan, and scrape popcorn and remaining caramel into the bowl and give the final, being careful to not crush the popcorn.
Spoon popcorn onto parchment paper in clumps and let cool for at least half an hour. You can wait longer and then break up with a wooden spoon, but I find people like getting large wedges of caramel popcorn goodness, and can’t wait much longer.
Wrap, store, give away, or greedily keep the popcorn to yourself.
If you’re not feeling you’ve praised St. Diabeetus enough, you can always double-boil bittersweet or peppermint chocolate and drizzle over the cooling candy, or even toss in some salted cashews, peanuts, or pecans during baking. Or even a bit of Cayanne…or add pretzels. Or candy bits….
Good luck getting this stuff to stick around for more than a few hours without constant watch – this stuff’s like black gold and once addicted people will do most anything to get to it.
Original recipe from Southern Pink Lemonade.