Homemade Caramel Corn

Tested & Perfected Recipes

caramel corn

Whenever we visit my parents in Sarasota, we make nightly pilgrimages to Kilwin’s, a nostalgic ice cream and candy shop on St. Armand’s Circle in Lido Key. With the smell of fresh-made waffle cones wafting out the door and candy-makers stirring fudge in the window, it’s an irresistible tourist trap that just lures you in. I think the best part is waiting in line, where you get to sample all sorts of confections (because if it’s a sample, it doesn’t count, right?). We all love the sweet, crunchy caramel corn, so I thought it would be fun to recreate it at home. Surprisingly, it’s easy to make and you don’t need a giant copper kettle, or even a candy thermometer, to make it. There’s only one problem: it’s utterly addictive. Seriously, don’t make this stuff unless you have the willpower of a saint or many friends to share it with!

ingredients

Before we get to the recipe, a few words about the ingredients. You might wondering why the recipe calls for corn syrup and baking soda. The corn syrup helps to prevent the caramel sauce from crystallizing, which results in a smooth texture (sugar crystals make caramel grainy). And the baking soda causes the caramel to foam up, which aerates it and creates a nice crisp texture (so the caramel is not rock-hard when you bite into it).

Begin by making the popcorn. Heat the vegetable oil in a very large pot over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, then cover with a tight fitting lid.

popping-1

Wait for the popcorn to start popping, then shake the pan gently every now and again to keep the kernels moving. When the popping slows to 2-3 seconds apart, remove the pan from the heat.

popping-2

Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl, making sure to leave any unpopped kernels behind.

popcorn-in-bowl

Set the popcorn aside and make the caramel. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.

melting-butter

Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup and salt and stir until the sugar dissolves.

adding-syrup

Stirring occasionally, boil the syrup over medium heat for 5 minutes.

boiling-syrup

Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda.

adding-baking-soda

Stir well as the mixture turns foamy.

stirring-caramel

Immediately (and carefully — it’s very hot!) pour the syrup over the popped corn in three separate additions, stirring as you go.

adding-caramel-to-popcorn

Gently toss until the popcorn is evenly coated.

tossing-popcorn-with-caramel

Spread the caramel corn into even layers on parchment-lined sheet pans.

ready-to-bake

Bake at 200°F for one hour. The caramel will be a little soft at this point; let it cool completely to crisp up.

Homemade-Caramel-Corn-1

 

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Homemade Caramel Corn

Servings: 16 cups
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour 20 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes, plus plus cooling time

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup popcorn kernels (see note*)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 200°F and line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a very large pot over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn and shake the pan to coat the kernels with oil. Cover with a tight fitting lid (alternatively, cover tightly with foil). Wait for the popcorn to start popping, then shake the pan gently every now and again to keep the kernels moving. When the popping slows to about 2 seconds apart, remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl, making sure to leave any unpopped kernels behind.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup and salt and stir until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture come to a gentle boil. Stirring occasionally, boil the syrup over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda. Stir well as the mixture turns foamy.
  4. Immediately (and carefully -- it's very hot!) pour the syrup over the popped corn in three separate additions, stirring gently as you go, until the popcorn is evenly coated.
  5. Spread the caramel corn into even layers on prepared pans. Bake at 200°F for one hour. The caramel will be a little soft at this point; let it cool completely to crisp up. Store in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
  6. Note: If you want to use microwave (be sure it's plain) or air-popped popcorn, note that 2/3 popcorn kernels makes 16 cups.

Reviews & Comments

  • Does this Carmel corn package well for holiday gifts? If so, any suggestions on packaging?

    • — Karen on November 18, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Karen, This keeps will for 3 – 4 days so it would work for holiday gifts if you feel confident it will be eaten in that timeframe. It needs to be stored in an airtight container, so anything decorative and also airtight will work. Hope your recipients enjoy! 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 18, 2018
      • Reply
  • The flavor was good but it turned out a little too sticky for me.

    • — Chris on November 14, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn! Just made this for our guests who are staying with us this weekend! Side note- their was a Kilwins down the street from where I went to college and it was always a treat to stop by and get something during finals week. The smell and taste of this popcorn brings me back to my college days! Thank you! Always stunning recipes!

    • — Monica on November 14, 2018
    • Reply
  • I have made this popcorn many times and it’s always a HUGE hit! Just wanted to hop on and make a comment about substituting the maple syrup though – today I wanted to make it but didn’t have any maple syrup. I subbed honey as someone suggested above and while it turned out ok texture-wise and everything, it wasn’t nearly as good. I was really surprised what a huge difference in taste there was. The honey comes through really strong which is a bit odd for a caramel corn. All that to say, for those of you scrolling through looking to see if you can sub out the maple syrup for something else, DON’T. Just drive yo’self to the store, pick up the syrup, and make it right!

    • — Cole on May 29, 2018
    • Reply
  • I’ve made caramel corn in the past, without corn syrup, and the caramel doesn’t hold up as well as this caramel. This is a great recipe and I will come back to it again!

    • — Jessica on March 7, 2018
    • Reply
  • Was the perfect caramel taste! Popcorn was crunching and sweet. My grandchildren was licking the bowl!

    • — Eugenia Jones on March 2, 2018
    • Reply
  • What can I use instead of corn syrup?

    • — M on January 5, 2018
    • Reply
    • Unfortunately, this recipe won’t work without the corn syrup – sorry!

      • — Jenn on January 7, 2018
      • Reply
  • This is incredible! Definitely useful to add the caramel slowly, maybe have someone else around to help you fold it into the popcorn.

    I’m also terrible at making popcorn, always ending up with some burnt on the bottom. If you are like me, maybe worth while to make sure to pick those out.

    • — Jane B. on February 14, 2017
    • Reply
  • I LOVED this but had a hard time spreading the caramel evenly over the popcorn – any suggestions? Thanks!

    • — Sally on December 16, 2016
    • Reply
    • Hi Sally, glad you liked it! Perhaps you waited just a tiny bit too long to spread the caramel (it cools very quickly and gets more sticky, so you need to work fast)! Also, keep in mind that the finished product will look different than store-bought and won’t be quite as evenly spread out, covering each kernel. But it tastes better (in my humble opinion :).

      • — Jenn on December 19, 2016
      • Reply
    • We usually put the popcorn into a very large bowl. We drizzle the caramel around about 1/4 at a time and use a spatula to gently toss the popcorn between each application.

      Another issue you might be having is cooking the caramel too long… if it cooks too long it gets much thicker and more difficult to distribute. As Jenn specifies in the recipe, the drying time in the oven then helps to dry/solidify the caramel.

      One change we have made to the recipe is to change out about 1/3 of the brown sugar for white sugar. The caramel is a little lighter in color and we think it makes this amazing recipe even better (found by accident because we ran out of brown sugar one day and used some white to make up the difference).

      • — John on December 20, 2016
      • Reply
  • This was a easy, quick. Really did not need any alterations. Thought 1/4C of cooking oil made popcorn too “greasy” tasting, so dropped it to 2-3 tbsp for 2/3C corn kernels. Maple flavor was really hard to detect- does get masked by all the brown sugar. But made several batches for dgt’s fair and it sold out w/in minutes.

    • — Emii on December 1, 2016
    • Reply
  • I made this just the other night with my kettle popper. It was fantastic! No changes needed except to maybe double or triple the recipe!

    • — Christina Lengyel on December 1, 2016
    • Reply
  • This is our to go recipe for caramel popcorn! We are making it again tonight for zoo trip tomorrow.

    • — Lu on October 10, 2016
    • Reply
  • I always thought my mom’s caramel popcorn was the best…until I tried yours!! It is delicious, and I love adding just a little bit more salt than what the recipe calls for, giving it a Seasalt Caramel flavor. Call me a glutton, but I make it at least 3 times a month. Thanks Jenn, for an excellent recipe!

    • — Boone on October 8, 2016
    • Reply
  • I just made this caramel corn today and was very good. Would recommend to all

    • — Ellen on January 14, 2016
    • Reply
  • Once again excellent recipe. Can’t stop eating it. Thanks again for a spot on recipe.

    • — Dan on December 10, 2015
    • Reply
  • Very good, but any Caramel Corn has to have nuts in it! Peanuts at the very least, pecans are even better.

    • — Tami Kaminsen on November 24, 2015
    • Reply
  • Made this for my 15-year-old son and his friends this weekend and it was devoured in minutes. Next time I’ll know to make more 😉

    • — Karen on November 10, 2015
    • Reply
  • I love, Love, LOVE caramel corn!! But I have always thought it would be too hard to make at home. This looks like something even a novice like myself could handle. Thanks for the recipe! PS: I love your pots/pans!

    • — Robin on November 1, 2015
    • Reply
  • Hi, Jenn,
    I appear to be replacing all my previous recipes with yours. Trust me, I’m not complaining. You’re making me a better cook. Friday night was movie night, and we did a taste test (for science, of course) between my previous recipe and your recipe, for Caramel Corn. Yours won (licked clean); the other (leftovers) didn’t. Query from the movie goers: could you add peanuts with the same ingredients, or would they have to be increased? How much peanuts/ingredients?
    Thanks,
    Deborah

    • — Deborah on November 1, 2015
    • Reply
    • So glad it was a hit, Deborah! Peanuts would be delicious. I would either reduce the amount of popcorn or increase the caramel. You can wing it but if you add 2 cups of peanuts, I would increase the sauce by about 25%. Please let me know how it turns out 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 2, 2015
      • Reply
      • Hi, Jenn,
        Movie night tonight, so I made the Caramel Corn with 2 cups peanuts. I adjusted the sauce ingredients as follows : 1 stick unsalted butter, plus 2 Tablespoons; 1-1/4 cup light brown sugar; 3/8 cup light corn syrup; 3/8 cup pure maple syrup; kept 1/2 teaspoon each salt and baking soda. Movie goers gave a 5-star rating. Many thanks for making me look good.
        Deborah

        • — Deborah on November 13, 2015
        • Reply
        • So glad, Deborah!

          • — Jenn on November 14, 2015
          • Reply
  • I add roasted nuts to mine that have been lightly salted. Takes the Carmel corn to a new level. I like making four batches and giving for Christmas gifts.

    • — Sheila on November 1, 2015
    • Reply
  • It sounds like the 1 hr. baking is important… can you please explain the purpose? Without your instructions I would have immediately cooled and eaten them after tossing in the carmel 🙂

    • — John on October 29, 2015
    • Reply
    • Hi John, The caramel is very sticky before you dry it in the oven. After baking, it’s dry, crisp and crunchy.

      • — Jenn on October 29, 2015
      • Reply
      • Just to close the story… my son is 11 and he wanted to start a small business, so we used your recipe here and he sold caramel popcorn to our neighbors. This was a huge hit, and we made a lot of it. The recipe was simple enough he was able to do most of the batches himself. Really amazing stuff 🙂

        • — John on February 18, 2016
        • Reply
        • That is so cool, John! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

          • — Jenn on February 18, 2016
          • Reply
  • Can honey or other syrup be used to replace the maple syrup? if so, would you use the same amount be used?

    • — Shon on October 29, 2015
    • Reply
    • Hi Shon, I haven’t tried it so can’t say for sure — caramel is finicky — but I do think it should work. Yes, use the same amount.

      • — Jenn on October 29, 2015
      • Reply
    • Yes, honey does work. We used honey to replace maple syrup because that was what we had. It was so good that we didn’t even wait till it was cooled. It taste even better after it is cooled completely.

      • — Lu on February 28, 2016
      • Reply
    • Yes, honey does work. We used honey on our batch because that was what we had. It worked great!

      • — Lu on February 29, 2016
      • Reply
  • I love Carmel popcorn and am really excited to try this recipe. I like the popcorn to be on the soft side. Does it work to not bake it?

    • — Peggy on October 29, 2015
    • Reply
    • Hi Peggy, Yes, it is soft and a bit sticky before baking.

      • — Jenn on October 29, 2015
      • Reply
  • Love your caramel corn however I always use coconut oil when popping corn. It’s absolutely the best, once you try it you’ll never go back. It’s definitely healthier for you and there’s no coconut flavor taste, just great flavor.

    • — Michele on October 29, 2015
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I love in Sarasota and love that you enjoy it here!!! Lots of great food choices here too. Have you been to Mortons or Detwiler’s markets? Any how, back to the popcorn, in always looking for foodie holiday gifts.. Would this popcorn keep for a bit to give as a gift? How long do you think it would keep?

    Thanks for all you do!

    • — Pam K on October 29, 2015
    • Reply
    • Hi Pam, I love love love Sarasota. My parents live in Long Boat and we have so much fun visiting them there (and also love those markets!). I’d say it keeps well for 3-4 days in an airtight container 🙂

      • — Jenn on October 29, 2015
      • Reply
  • I am interested in making your caramel corn, but was wondering if I could replace the butter with coconut oil or something else with no animal fat? The reason I ask is my daughter is a strict vegan and I have made it sort of a challenge to make recipes vegan where I can! Thank you!

    • — Kim Dierickx on October 29, 2015
    • Reply
    • I haven’t tried it but looks like another reviewer did with success 🙂

      • — Jenn on October 29, 2015
      • Reply
  • This recipe sounds great and answers the question of why my popcorn always burnt to the bottom of the pan. I always added the sugar to the popcorn, rather than the other way around! Thank you for explaining why you need the baking soda in this recipe. Yum!

    • — Linda Shetzer on October 29, 2015
    • Reply

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