As kids, my brother and I used to beg our mother to make caramel popcorn. We loved melting down the hot caramel topping and then taking turns shaking the brown paper bag as hard as we could until each kernel was coated with a sticky, toffee-like layer. Waiting for the popcorn to cool enough to eat down was just torture! The only difference making it these days is that now we don't have to beg...
Making a batch of caramel corn is a great way to finish a dinner party. Passing around the hot bag so everyone gets in a few shakes can be a lot of fun - as is standing around the pans of hot caramel corn picking off the first bits that are cool enough to eat!
The caramel corn can also be made in advanced and served as part of a dessert buffet, as a topping for ice cream, or as popcorn balls.
Makes about 5 quarts of popcorn
1 cup popping corn, unpopped
1/4 cup white corn syrup
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Film the bottom of a large pot with canola oil, add the popcorn, and set over high heat. Shake the pot occasionally until the corn has stopped popping. Nestled two brown paper grocery bags inside each other and pour the popped corn inside.
Combine the corn syrup, butter, and sugar in a large microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave for another 2 minutes. Stir in the baking soda and vanilla - the syrup will bubble up quite a bit, so be careful!
Pour this syrup over the popcorn in three separate batches, shaking the popcorn in between.
Roll down the top of the paper bag. Place the popcorn - bag and all - in the microwave and microwave on high for 45 seconds. Shake the bag and microwave for another 45 seconds. Repeat this two more times (making four total 45-second bursts), then pour the popcorn out onto cookie sheets to cool.
While the popcorn is still warm, you can separate it into individual kernels, shape it into balls, or form it into disks to make caramel popcorn "cookies."
The popcorn is best on the day it's made. Seal any leftovers in an air tight bag or container. The sugar will soften over time, making the popcorn more chewy than crispy (though still very yummy!).
Related: How to Make Popcorn
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)