I’ve been wanting to make caramel corn for years, but whenever I asked Cornelius if he wanted any, he always said no. Can you believe that I married someone who couldn’t care less about caramel corn? It just didn’t make much sense to me, so when I prodded him further he told me that he just didn’t like it. Crazy, right? He told me that his grandma made caramel corn and it was sticky and too sweet. I said, do I look like your grandma? Actually, I never said that, but you get the gist.
Me, I grew up with caramel corn….sort of. What I mean is that I grew up with a homemade caramel sauce that was pretty identical to the recipe below. But instead of baking the popcorn for an hour in a slow oven, my mom and I just poured the sauce over some popcorn and we called it done. Popcorn was always a last-minute snack so waiting for an hour didn’t make sense to our impatient bellies. Sweet? Yup. Sticky? Definitely. So I was curious to see what baking the caramel corn would do. Let me tell you that it does all the right things.
The resulting popcorn was light and crunchy – not sticky. It wasn’t too sweet and it had a hint of cayenne and a touch of salt. I leaned to more popcorn (12 cups opposed to 10 cups) and I loved it and surprisingly, Cornelius loved it too. I liked the triumvirate of nuts: pecans, pepitas, almonds. The pepitas especially were particularly rich and buttery and helped to make this popcorn off-the-hook amazing. This caramel corn also would makes a perfect gift in case you feel like sharing it around. Packed in a mason jar and tied with red and white twine it’s almost too cute to eat. Almost.
Don’t let the recipe length fool you. This is simple stuff and it’s worth every word and more. Pass it around or be rightfully greedy and stuff it into your face as soon as you can.
spiced caramel corn with pepitas, almonds & pecans
(adapted from Orangette)
10 – 12 c fresh popcorn, popped by any method
1 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c light corn syrup
6 T salted butter, melted
2 T water
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t – 1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 t vanilla extract
1/3 c pepitas
1/3 c pecans, roughly chopped
1/3 c almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 t flaky sea salt
Preheat oven to 250F.
Once you’ve popped your popcorn (I like hot air popped corn – I’m a product of the ’70s!), go through and remove all unpopped kernels. Someone once told me these were called widows which just seems cruel. Dump popcorn into your biggest bowl – if you don’t have a big bowl, try your biggest stock pot.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter, brown sugar and corn syrup together along with 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer for 3-4 minutes, whisking often. If you’ve got a candy thermometer, it should read 250°F. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda, vanilla and cayenne pepper.
Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn along with the nuts. Use a rubber spatula to distribute the caramel evenly by folding it gently. Transfer the popcorn onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silpat mats. Sprinkle with sea salt if desired.
Bake for 1 hour, stirring often and turning the pans to make sure that the heat is evenly distributed, as the popcorn can burn if not watched closely. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Gently break up popcorn and store in a tightly lidded container. Keeps in a tightly lidded jar for up to 2 weeks (or more), but like that’s going to happen.