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close-up of caramel popcorn in tin.

Homemade Caramel Corn

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Yield: 10-11 cups
  • Category: Snacks
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Brimming with buttery flavor, sweet crunch, and from-scratch caramel, each bite of this homemade caramel corn is undeniably irresistible. You’ll make the 6-ingredient caramel sauce on the stove, and while a candy thermometer is helpful, you certainly can get by without one. The recipe below is for plain caramel popcorn, but see Notes for other variations. This is a great make-ahead recipe for a party, bake sale, or gathering, and can easily be doubled.


Ingredients

  • 1011 cups (about 7075g) air-popped popcorn*
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (80g) light corn syrup*
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar*
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Line 1 or 2 12×17-inch baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
  2. Pour the popcorn into the largest bowl you have, or spread it onto the prepared baking sheets. (Either way is fine.)
  3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and cream of tartar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly as the butter melts and mixture comes to a simmer. Once simmering around the edges, allow to bubble, without stirring, for 4 minutes. (If you have a candy thermometer, the caramel should reach 234–235°F (112–113°C).)
  4. Remove caramel from heat and immediately stir in the baking soda. The mixture will bubble up, almost double in volume, and appear frothy on the surface as you stir; this is normal and expected. Be careful, it’s very hot.
  5. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and, with a large spoon or spatula, stir gently until all of the popcorn has been coated. Go slowly here and have patience; it requires quite a few turns of the spatula/spoon as the caramel begins to harden. If it’s not already, spread the popcorn evenly onto prepared baking sheet(s).
  6. Bake for 1 hour, gently stirring every 20 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool on the pan for at least 30 minutes. The caramel hardens as it cools. Once cool enough to handle, you can break apart any large clusters.
  8. Cover the popcorn tightly once cooled. This caramel corn stays fresh for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container, so it’s a great recipe to make ahead of time.

Notes

  1. Special Tools (affiliate links): Popcorn Maker | Baking Sheet | Silicone Baking Mat or Parchment Paper | Medium Saucepan | Candy Thermometer
  2. Popcorn: You need about 1/3 cup of kernels to yield 10–11 cups of popcorn. If you do not have a popcorn maker at home, you can simply add 3 Tablespoons of popcorn kernels to a brown paper bag. Seal the bag tightly by folding over the top. Microwave the popcorn for approximately 1 minute, 45 seconds on high power, or up to 2 minutes, depending on your microwave. This method will make 5 cups, so you’ll have to do it twice. Alternatively, you can use store-bought natural-style microwave popcorn that has no butter added to it. If you use buttered popcorn, the caramel may not set and the caramel corn will be greasy.
  3. Corn Syrup: Use light corn syrup, not dark corn syrup. This recipe will not work without this ingredient; it’s crucial to help prevent crystallization in the cooking caramel, and keeps the caramel soft, stretchy, and chewy. As an alternative without corn syrup, try my peanut butter caramel corn recipe instead.
  4. Cream of Tartar: Cream of tartar helps to prevent crystallization in the cooking caramel. If you’re all out, you can make the caramel corn without it. Just know that its acidity helps to prevent crystals from forming in your caramel. Corn syrup does the same job, too.
  5. Add Nuts, Chocolate, or Spices: You can add 1–2 cups of your favorite salted or unsalted nuts such as peanuts or cashews to the popcorn before you stir in the caramel sauce in step 5. To add chocolate, I recommend drizzling melted chocolate or white chocolate on the cooled caramel corn. You do not want to bake the caramel corn with the chocolate on top. You can also add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and/or 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the caramel after you take it off heat, when you stir in the baking soda.
  6. How to double: Double all of the ingredients. In step 3, let the caramel bubble for 7 minutes, or use a candy thermometer. The candy thermometer temperature remains the same. The bake time also remains the same. Do not over-crowd the baking sheets; you’ll likely need 3.

Originally published in 2014, and also published in Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Keywords: homemade caramel corn