Easy Caramel Corn
Caramel corn is an old-fashioned snack food that never goes out of style. It’s a classic treat that gives us just as much of an experience in the summertime at carnivals as it does in the winter at Christmas time. It’s a treat that always makes sense, no matter the occasion!
We can never underestimate the simple classics, especially ones that are utterly addicting. This sweet popcorn snack is a welcome addition to any special gathering. Whether it’s a family movie night, a birthday party, a Halloween or Christmas party, it’s always a crowd-pleaser.
This recipe doesn’t require any special tools or gadgets and there is no thermometer needed. All you need is a non-stick skillet, a baking sheet, and a cooling rack. It’s made with just a few pantry staples and the result is perfect caramel corn every time. It keeps for weeks in an airtight container, so it makes a great make-ahead snack. Once you have a handle on this basic recipe, you can then start to add in things like nuts, chocolate chips, skittles, or any of your favorite add-ins!
Ok, so is caramel and butterscotch the same thing?
Here’s where things start to get hairy. Caramel and butterscotch are generally made with the same ingredients, but caramel is typically used with white sugar and whereas butterscotch is made with brown sugar. This caramel corn, as with most caramel corn recipes, is made with brown sugar. It seems to be one of those situations where two recipes have become so interchangeable, that there is no right or wrong way to make one or the other anymore. But no, officially, they are not the same thing. But in this case, tomato-to-mah-toe.
A Recipe for Caramel Corn
We can get all technical and stuff, but the truth is, that despite it not being purely caramel, because it doesn’t use white sugar, the brown sugar in the caramel corn gives it a depth of flavor and richer color that adds so much to the taste. However, it’s not true butterscotch either because this recipe contains cream and corn syrup. It really is the best of both worlds.
- Popped corn – You’ll need to pop the corn ahead of time and keep it warm while you make the sauce.
- Brown sugar – Light brown sugar to give it a deeper flavor than white sugar but not too deep of a molasses taste.
- Corn syrup – Light corn syrup, used to help keep the sugar from crystalizing so it stays nice and smooth.
- Butter – Needed for a lovely, velvety, buttery-rich texture. Can use unsalted or salted, but the former will allow for easier control of how salt you add in there.
- Salt – Because a little salted caramel never hurt anyone!
- Vanilla – A nice warming flavor that rounds out the sweet and salty very nicely.
- Baking soda – Used to get a light airy texture to the caramel corn. It creates air bubbles which help avoid a heavy, hard candy coating that might crack your teeth otherwise!
How to Make Homemade Caramel Corn
As mentioned earlier there are no fancy gadgets in this super simple recipe. Pop your popcorn and keep it warm in the oven while you make the caramel sauce.
Combine the sugar, syrup, butter and salt and bring it to a boil before adding the vanilla and baking soda. You’ll then coat the popcorn that’s been keeping warm in an oven and bake on low for about an hour. It’s imperative to give it a stir every 15 minutes so that it doesn’t form one giant clump and all sides get baked evenly.
Allow it to cool before breaking it apart, because it will be hot! It will also continue to set as it cools. Then, dig in!
Tips & Variations
- Pop your popcorn ahead of time, but take care not to burn it. You can’t hide burnt popcorn even if your caramel is uber delish.
- To get rid of the unpopped kernels, place them on a cooling rack above a baking sheet. The unpopped kernels should fall through the grate, but the popped kernals will remain on top.
- If using microwaved popcorn make sure it’s plain without any flavor. Not even butter!
- Keep an eye on your caramel as it boils and keep stirring. Burnt caramel is not a good time and a hassle to start over.
- For maximum flavor, use brown sugar not white.
- Add peanuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, chocolate chips, raisins, pumpkin seeds, candies, whatever you think would make a good mix of flavors and textures.
What else can I use the caramel sauce for?
Caramel sauce is so delicious, it’s never a bad idea to make more than enough. Use some to make caramel apples, or even use as a dip for sliced fruit. Keep it in a jar and warm it up when you need a drizzle on your pancakes, waffles, or crepes.
How to store caramel corn?
Keep it stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks at room temperature.
- 3 quarts popped corn (12 cups)
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- Place popped corn in a shallow baking pan in a 250 degree oven while making the caramel. (I divide the popped corn between two 9x13 pans, glass or metal work fine).
- In a medium saucepan, mix together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt.
- Stirring constantly over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Once it starts boiling (really boiling), stop stirring and set the timer for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract and baking soda.
- Divide the caramel between the two pans of popped corn and stir it to coat evenly.
- Bake at 250°F for a total of one hour, stirring it every 15 minutes.
- After one hour, remove the caramel corn from the oven and immediately dump it out onto the countertop (dump onto parchment paper for easy clean-up. Allow the caramel corn to cool, break it apart, and start eating!