Valentine’s Day and Easter are now behind us and we are all chocolate-d out. It’s time for something lighter. Well good thing our calendars are never at a loss for “Inter/National (Insert your favorite food) Day.” Today was assigned one of my favorite treats, since getting my braces off in my teens, “National Caramel Popcorn Day”
Popcorn and caramel popcorn are truly American traditions. The New World had popcorn for thousands of years before the rest of the world. And in the 1800’s, Dutch Americans started mixing popcorn in a kettle with salt and sugar – a quick treat for special occasions. In 1896, two German brothers started mass producing their popular popcorn and peanut mix, and called it, “Cracker Jack”. Today you can get many brands of sweetened or flavored popcorn in your grocery store.
But you can make a fresher version, with fewer chemicals, right in your own home with this recipe.
Basic Caramel Popcorn
- 5 Quarts (20 Cups) popped popcorn (Preferably air popped)
- 1 cup of butter
- ½ cup corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups brown sugar (preferably light brown sugar)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Pop the popcorn.
Melt butter, corn syrup, salt and brown sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir continuously until boiling.
Boil without stirring for four minutes.
After 4 minutes, remove from heat and add baking soda and vanilla. Stir well.
Place the popcorn in a bowl large enough to stir without popcorn spilling out.
If you have the benefit of a helper for stirring, add the caramel to the bowl of popcorn, at a steady rate, while your partner mixes the popcorn. Mix with a plastic spoon or spatula. I’ve found a hard-plastic spatula works best, with less popcorn sticking or getting stuck inside a spoon. Try not to touch the popcorn at this point – it is very hot and sticky.
If working alone, place half the popcorn into a very large mixing bowl and drizzle with some of the caramel mixture. Add more popcorn and more caramel. Continue to mix. Repeat until all the caramel is incorporated with the popcorn.
Spread the caramel popcorn onto two or three shallow baking sheets. However tempting it is, do NOT grease the pans. Place the caramel popcorn in the oven for an hour. Stir the popcorn every fifteen minutes. Do not worry about clumps sticking together. But makes sure to pull the popcorn off the bottom of the pan during each stir.
After an hour, stir the popcorn one more time, making sure none of it is sticking to the pan. Keep the popcorn in the pans until it is completely cooled than transfer to a large bowl and break up the final caramel corn. Store in an airtight freezer bag if you have any left after a day. You probably won’t have any left! Enjoy!