(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

You can resist the pumpkin spice craze this time of year, or you can lean right on into it. I say lean. This crunchy, lightly-spiced caramel corn is only for those of us who truly embrace the season. It will satisfy those random cravings that arise between this morning's pumpkin spice latte and tonight's spice-infused dessert. I should know — I've had a batch in my kitchen for the past few days and can't help but grab a handful whenever I walk by.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

This might just be one of my favorite riffs on my basic Caramel Popcorn recipe. It's a sweet treat with (to my taste!) just the right amount of spice — it's enough to feel warming, but not so much that it knocks you over the head. A handful works as an afternoon snack that you can easily carry in your bag and eat on a break.

And if you have any bake sales this fall, definitely put this on your list — it's easy to make a huge batch and portion into cute packages.

Don't be nervous about making the caramel sauce for this popcorn. You don't even need a candy thermometer — it's pretty foolproof! The spices do make the sauce a bit thicker. The caramel won't coat the popcorn quite as evenly as non-spiced versions, but I actually like that you end up with some super-coated pieces and some lightly-coated pieces.

Last but not least, don't skimp on the baking time. That's what makes the popcorn extra crunchy and also prevents the pieces from being sticky in your hand. It will stay crunchy for several days in an airtight container.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Pumpkin Spiced Caramel Corn

Serves 6 to 8

1/2 cup popcorn kernels (10 to 12 cups popped)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, store-bought or homemade
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Step-by-Step Photos: How To Make the Best Caramel Popcorn

Heat the oven to 250°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or nonstick baking mats. Mix together the pumpkin spice, salt, and baking soda and set near the stove.

Pop the popcorn on the stovetop, in the microwave, or using your preferred method. You should have 10 to 12 cups of popped popcorn. Transfer the popcorn to a large, heat-proof mixing bowl and set near the stove.

Melt the butter in a 2-quart or larger sauce pan on the stovetop. Do not use a smaller pot; the sugar mixture will boil over the sides. Once melted, stir in the brown sugar. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the butter-sugar mixture to a boil. Once boiling, boil for 3 to 4 minutes or until the sugar mixture reaches approximately 275°F.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and baking soda. The mixture will bubble up immediately and double in size; be very careful to avoid splatters. Stir the mixture until the spices are incorporated and you make a smooth sauce.

Pour 1/4 of the sauce over the popcorn and stir to combine. Continue pouring a bit of the sauce and stirring until all the sauce has been stirred into the popcorn. Divide the popcorn between the baking sheets and spread into an even layer.

Bake the popcorn for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Because of the spices added, the coating will look matte instead of glossy. Baking the popcorn makes the caramel corn extra-crunchy. At the end of the hour, break apart any clumps of popcorn with your fingers and let cool.

Popcorn is at its best and most addictive when just cooled from the oven, but will stay crunchy if kept in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Recipe Notes

  • Because of the spices in this caramel corn, the coating is a little thicker and it won't coat the popcorn quite as evenly as a non-spiced batch.