Flakes of perfectly popped corn are bathed in an addictively delicious homemade caramel to create this phenomenal snack that is a treat for any season!
😍 Here is why you’re going to love, love, love this recipe!
- It is so easy to make and takes just 10-minutes.
- It uses 7 minimal, clean-eating ingredients.
- It is gluten-free and lacto-vegetarian friendly.
- It doesn’t use any corn syrup.
- This version doesn’t require you to bake it.
- The smell of it is amazing. I’m reminded of fall fairs or trips to Disney World.
- It’s a wonderful base for other variations such as popcorn balls or shapes, homemade “Moose Munch” or this super fun to make Zebra Popcorn (the Halloween/Fall striped versions are a great activity to do with your little ones!)
- It’s super delicious!
Now, read on for the step by step directions and some helpful tips and tricks to guaranteeing success in making this popped treat!
To make your caramel corn, here’s what we’ll need:
- Plain Popped Corn: You can use any variety of corn you like. I’ve made a post with tips and tricks on how to make your own popped corn either on the stove-top or in the microwave.
- Butter: I’m using salted but you can just as easily used unsalted.
- Sugar: I’m using a raw cane sugar but you can also use coconut sugar. Coconut sugar will give a richer depth of caramel flavor and it’s also a low GI sugar!
- Baking Soda: This helps our caramel to become aerated which helps both the texture, the spread, and the set (more on that below)
- Molasses: Molasses has a dual purpose of not just adding a wonderful depth of flavor to our caramel but it also aids in activating our baking soda!
- Vanilla Extract: This adds both flavor and a wonderful layer of aroma to our caramel.
- Salt: I’m using a pink Himalayan salt but a sea salt can also be used.
Now, let me show you how easy this caramel corn is to make!
To a small saucepan add your sugar, butter, molasses and salt. Set your heat to med-low and stir until the butter and sugar are melted and combined (top row of the above image).
My butter and sugar isn’t forming together and seems separated and grainy! Help!
Don’t panic! This can happen sometimes due to various reasons such as temperature issues or not stirring enough in the initial stages. Continue on to the next step below and add in your vanilla. Once you do, stir or whisk it quickly and your sauce should come together. If that doesn’t work, try adding in a tsp of milk or water and stirring quickly. If you do add in any additional liquid, cook your sauce for an additional minute.
Once it begins to simmer, stir in your vanilla and set your heat to low. We’ll let our sauce simmer undisturbed for the next 2 minutes (or 3 if you added in any extra liquid beside the vanilla).
Enjoy these 2 minutes because once they’re up you’ll need to work fast…
Once the two minutes are up, stir in your baking soda and allow your caramel to froth up. This will take a few seconds.
So Why Baking Soda??
Baking soda makes the caramel foamy and aerated. This helps our caramel to not only be more voluminous (which helps it to have more spread on our corn), it also gives our caramel a lighter, creamier color. More to that, it aids in helping our caramel to set and attain a candy-coating texture once fully cooled. Without it your caramel is at risk of having the sugar molecules crystallize which can lead to the end-product being more grainy and gritty instead of smooth-coated and candy-like!
Once your caramel has frothed up, immediately pour it over your popcorn and start stirring and mixing it in. This is very important to get even coverage over all the popcorn.
As you fold the caramel into the corn it will look like the above. This is the halfway point…keep folding and mixing! Doing this also helps your caramel to cool down and keeps your popcorn flakes separated which will prevent it from forming into one large clump. As it cools it will harden and set on the flakes of popcorn and since you stirred and kept it moving and separated, you won’t have any issues with it clumping together!
My caramel didn’t harden! It’s sticky and toffee-like, what do I do??
This can happen sometimes, all it means is that there is a bit of moisture in your caramel. Here’s how you can fix the issue (though toffee-style caramel corn is also super delicious!).
Place it onto a parchment lined baking tray and bake it at 250F for 20-30 minutes, turning it at every 10-minute interval. This will slowly remove any moisture from the caramel causing the sugar to become more like candy. It will still be soft and sticky when you remove it from the oven but once it cools completely the caramel should set and harden on your corn!
And there you have it, wonderfully caramel coated popcorn. A perfect snacking treat that, if you’re like me, you need to pre-portion because you will end up devouring it all in one go!
Bonus: Caramel Popcorn Balls!
When you’ve mixed your caramel in and it’s semi-set to a toffee-like consistency it’s at the perfect stage to shape and form and mold as they will cling to each other, and once fully cooled, hold the shape. Ensure that it’s warm to the touch (hot sugar is no joking matter so do be careful!) and sticky and scoop a portion up and shape it however you’d like.
Two great options are to shape them into popcorn balls or fill a cookie cutter mold to form your popcorn into shapes!
Honestly guys, this recipe is insanely easy and soooooo delicious that I really hope you give it a try. And while caramel popcorn is delicious on its own you can take your popcorn game one step further by making yourself some Zebra Popcorn! I’ve made several variations all of which are not just tasty but so much fun to make.
Happy snacking everyone!🍿🥰
Easy Addictive Caramel Popcorn
- Set your popped popcorn in a bowl on the side, being sure to remove and discard any unpopped kernels.
- Make Caramel: To a saucepan, on med-low heat, add in the butter, salt, sugar, and molasses and bring to a low simmer, stirring constantly. Once it begins simmering, stir in your vanilla until fully combined (it will bubble and release some steam). Lower your heat and let it simmer on low, undisturbed for 2 minutes.
- Once the 2 minutes are up, stir in the baking soda and mix it throughout the caramel, allowing it to froth up.
- Pour Caramel: Working quickly, pour your caramel over your popcorn and using a rubber spatula scrape the pot and then toss to evenly coat all your popcorn pieces in the caramel. Keep tossing and mixing for a few minutes as your popcorn cools and sets, or you can spread it onto a baking tray in a single layer to allow it to cool.
- Popcorn Balls: Working quickly while the popcorn is still warm and pliable but not fully set (be sure it's not too hot to handle) scoop a small handful of popcorn into your cupped hands and shape into a ball by pressing and molding it. Allow them to cool. Additionally, you can press it into cookie cutter molds to make other shapes such as gingerbread men and immediately demold them and let them cool to set.
- Storage: Store in an airtight container at room temp for up to a week. You can store it in the fridge for a longer shelf-life but doing so may make it a bit soggy.
- If your caramel doesn't set when cooled and remains toffee-like you can place it onto a parchment lined baking tray and bake it at 250F for 20-30 minutes, turning it at every 10-minute interval. It will still be soft and sticky when you remove it from the oven but once it cools completely the caramel should set.