Caramel popcorn, with its irresistible combination of sweet and crunchy, is a favorite snack for many. Making it at home on the stove allows you to enjoy this delectable treat whenever you like. This article will walk you through the step-by-step process of making caramel popcorn on the stove.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 10-12 cups popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup unpopped kernels)
- Large, heavy-bottomed saucepan
- Candy thermometer (optional but recommended)
- Wooden spoon or heatproof spatula
- Large heatproof bowl
- Baking sheet
- Parchment paper or silicone baking mat
1: Prepare Your Popcorn
Before making caramel popcorn, you must have freshly popped popcorn ready. You can use your preferred method to pop the popcorn, such as a stovetop, microwave, or air popper. Regardless of your chosen method, make sure to remove any unpopped kernels to prevent them from ending up in your caramel popcorn. You’ll want approximately 10-12 cups of popped popcorn, which is roughly equivalent to 1/2 cup of unpopped kernels.
2: Line a Baking Sheet
To make caramel popcorn, you’ll need a baking sheet, a silicone baking mat, and a lot of popcorn. The caramel-coated popcorn will come out of the pan without sticking if you do this. Don’t use the baking sheet just yet.
3: Make the Caramel Sauce
The heart of caramel popcorn is, of course, the caramel sauce. Follow these steps to create a rich, sweet caramel sauce:
- Half a cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter should be melted over medium heat in a medium pot with a heavy bottom (this will assist prevent burning). So that the melting goes smoothly, stir it every once in a while.
- Add 1 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup of light corn syrup, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the saucepan once the butter has melted. Blend these components together by stirring.
- As you continue to heat the mixture, it will begin to bubble. Keep stirring constantly to ensure the sugar fully dissolves and the ingredients are well incorporated. This should take a few minutes.
- You must bring the mixture to the softball stage once the mixture is bubbling consistently. This is the point at which the caramel sauce has reached the desired consistency for coating the popcorn. A candy thermometer is the best tool for getting an exact reading. The thermometer should be clipped to the side of the saucepan such that its probe is in the liquid but not touching the bottom of the pan. The target temperature is 250°F (120°C). You can perform a cold water test if you don’t have a candy thermometer. To do this, fill a glass with cold water and, using a clean spoon, drop a small amount of the caramel mixture into the water. It should form a soft, pliable ball when ready. If the ball is too hard, the caramel is overcooked and needs more time if it’s too soft.
- Turn off the heat as soon as the caramel sauce reaches the “soft ball” stage. The caramel should not be touched with bare skin because it is incredibly hot and can cause severe burns.
- Combine the baking soda and vanilla extract with the hot caramel and stir to combine. Since these components cause a momentary bubble up, care must be given to avoid caramel splatters.
4: Coat the Popcorn
With your caramel sauce ready, it’s time to coat the popcorn. Follow these steps:
- Immediately after popping the popcorn, pour the hot caramel sauce over it. Make sure all the popcorn is coated by pouring it evenly.
- Carefully stir the popcorn with the caramel sauce using a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula. Be very careful during this step, as the caramel is incredibly hot. Make sure every piece of popcorn is coated with the caramel sauce to achieve a uniform and sweet flavor throughout the batch.
5: Bake in the Oven
Now that your popcorn is coated with caramel, it’s time to bake it in the oven to set the caramel and create that irresistible crunch. Follow these steps:
- To get your oven ready for baking, turn it up to 250°F (120°C).
- Spread the caramel-coated popcorn evenly onto the prepared baking sheet. It should be in a single layer to ensure that the caramel is set appropriately.
- Put the baking sheet containing the caramel popcorn into the hot oven and bake it for 45 minutes to an hour. In order to keep the popcorn from sticking together, you’ll have to stir it every fifteen minutes.
- Baking the caramel popcorn at this low temperature allows the caramel to set and become crisp slowly. The constant stirring helps ensure that every piece of popcorn is coated in the caramel mixture.
6: Cool and Break Apart
After the baking time is up, remove the caramel popcorn from the oven. It will still be quite hot, so be careful not to touch it directly. Leave it on the baking pan to cool entirely.
As the caramel popcorn cools, it will harden and become crunchy. Once it’s cooled down, you can break it into clusters or individual pieces. Whether you like your bits to be individually bite-sized or clustered into larger chunks is entirely up to you.
7: Enjoy Your Homemade Caramel Popcorn
Congratulations! You’ve successfully made homemade caramel popcorn on the stove. Now, it’s time to enjoy your sweet and crunchy treat. Caramel popcorn is perfect for snacking during movie nights, sharing with friends and family, or giving as a homemade gift. Keep your leftovers tasty and fresh by storing them in an airtight container.
- Variations: Add some variety to your caramel popcorn by mixing in some chopped nuts (such as peanuts or almonds), chocolate chips, or even some sea salt for a salty-sweet snack.
- Safety First: Always exercise caution when working with hot caramel. Contact with the skin might result in serious burns. Don’t let the kids or the pets near the stove.
- Cleanup: Cleaning caramel residue from your saucepan, utensils, and candy thermometer can be challenging. The best way to clean them is to soak them in hot water to dissolve the caramel, making it easier to wash away.
- Storage: Caramel popcorn will last indefinitely if kept at room temperature in an airtight container. It should remain crunchy for several days, but it’s so delicious that it’s unlikely to last that long!
Now, you have a comprehensive guide to making caramel popcorn on the stove. This delightful treat is perfect for movie nights, parties, or satisfying your sweet tooth. Enjoy the sweet and crunchy goodness with every bite!