Salted caramel has been a trend in the food-blogging world for the past couple of years, but my mom was churning out huge batches of this golden goodness long before that irresistible sweet-and-salty combo became so popular. She'd serve heaping bowls of this wonderful treat during movie nights with friends in England and, in a country famous for stodgy puddings and spongy tea cakes, my friends worshipped her All-American chocolate chip cookies and this rich, sticky-sweet popcorn. She wrote the recipe on the back of a notecard many years ago, and that little card still survives, tacked to the inside of her spice cupboard.
It had been years since I'd tasted it, but I was home for the weekend and feeling nostalgic, and suddenly I had cravings for our old favorite snack. I consulted the door of the cupboard, gathered my ingredients and, in minutes, had filled the house with the equally tantalizing smells of fresh popcorn and warm sugar.
This recipe is great for parties because it can be made ahead of time and, stored in an airtight container, won't get soggy the way that regular popcorn often does. It's also incredibly simple to make: melt together lots of butter, lots of sugar, some salt, some vanilla, and a bit of baking soda (the 'secret' ingredient) and pour it over freshly popped popcorn. This is not a health food (the recipe starts off like something from Paula Deen - with two sticks of butter!), but it is delicious, comforting and wonderfully nostalgic. For a crunchy version (think Crunch n' Munch, Cracker Jack or Poppycock), the whole mixture goes into the oven for up to 45 minutes. If you like it chewy - my personal favorite - you can dig in immediately or just reduce the baking time.
Salted Caramel Popcorn
5 quarts popcorn, popped (I use air-popped)
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
Spread popped popcorn in a roasting pan, sheet pan or a few 9x13-inch baking pans, allowing enough room to stir and spread popcorn once the caramel mixture has been added. Preheat oven to 200 °F.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter, sugar and corn syrup together and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in salt, vanilla and baking soda. Mixture will become foamy and frothy. Spread hot caramel mixture evenly over the popped popcorn and stir with a wooden spoon to coat. Spread coated popcorn across baking pans and bake until dry to the touch, about 20-30 minutes. For crunchier popcorn, increase baking time. Serve warm (popcorn will be softer) or allow to cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to three days (it may keep longer, but ours has never been around long enough to tell!).
A few notes: This recipe is amazingly good as-is, but if you're deterred by the idea of two whole sticks of butter, you can cut back - I've heard it still works with as little as 1/2 cup, but this is one recipe I've never even tried to health-ify! When coating the popcorn, it helps to periodically scrape the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon since the caramel will tend to pool there. This also makes it much easier to clean up after baking - just soak the pans for a few minutes and the sugar dissolves easily.
The only other variable in the recipe is the baking time. Thirty minutes will yield a very slightly chewy coating (just the way I like it!) but you can eat it without baking for a softer treat, or bake for up to 45 minutes for a more Cracker-Jack-like confection. Toss in some nuts or dried fruit before baking for a gourmet version. Enjoy!
This post is linked at:
33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays
Two Maids a Milking: 2 Maids a Baking
Confessions of a Stay at Home Mommy: Tuesday Confessional
Blessed with Grace: Tempt My Tummy Tuesday
Something Swanky: Sweet Treats Thursday
This Chick Cooks: These Chicks Cooked
Lady Behind the Curtain: Cast Party Wednesday
Sweet as Sugar Cookies: Sweets for a Saturday