My family loves caramel corn, but I think it is fairly expensive to buy - something like $2.38 for a cardboard box that holds a cellophane packet inside that is half-full of caramel corn, which takes the four of us approximately half an hour to plow through.
So I was very pleased to find today that homemade caramel popcorn is a lot cheaper to make on your own, and easy, too.
I don't think I've made caramel popcorn for about sixteen years or so. I remember that the last time I made it, I was still teaching. My sixth graders held a bake sale in the cafeteria every Friday afternoon to raise funds for a class trip to Chicago, and I frequently made caramel popcorn balls in various cute ways, such as with a little bit of candy corn stirred in (adorable for fall) or with red and green M&Ms stirred in for Christmasy corn balls, or even with plain old milk chocolate chips. I packaged them in pieces of cling wrap and tied them with coordinating colors of curling ribbon and they always sold very well.
As I wracked my brain trying to remember what recipe I used, it came to me that the one I used for those popcorn balls was one from the church's first cookbook, published by the Ladies' Auxiliary. Even though I no longer attend that church, that cookbook is one of my favorites and many of the recipes therein were submitted by old friends whose faces I can still see in my mind's eye.
So here, with a few tweaks, is one of the easiest and most delicious caramel popcorn recipes you'll probably ever find. You can add little candies to the finished product, as I mentioned above -- let your imagination run wild -- or you can leave it plain. You can put on some kitchen gloves (so that you won't burn your dainty fingers) and form the popcorn into popcorn balls. It is a very versatile recipe.
GAME DAY CARAMEL POPCORN
1 cup unpopped popcorn (makes about two gallons of poppped corn)
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pour half of the popcorn kernels into the bottom of a large, heavy saucepan on stovetop. Add canola oil just to cover. Over high heat, pop popcorn, shaking saucepan frequently to allow kernels to fall to the bottom of the pan. Repeat with the rest of the popcorn kernels.
When popped, pour all popcorn into a paper grocery bag; set aside.
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter and add corn syrup, brown sugar and salt. Allow mixture to come to an easy boil; cook for two minutes, stirring continally. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, stirring at the end of one minute. Repeat. At the end of the second minute, add the baking soda and stir, allowing the caramel mixture to foam up.
Pour half the mixture over the popcorn, fold bag over and shake vigorously. Open bag and pour remaining caramel over the popcorn; shake again, turning the bag upside down and sideways, taking care to hold it shut.
[At this point, you would be a VERY SMART PERSON if you took that saucepan you just made the caramel sauce in and filled it with hot soapy water. Because, caramel sauce? It hardens like LAVA on the insides of your cookware and it will make you wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just throw your saucepan in the garbage can outdoors than to try to chisel off all that hardened candy coating. Just trust me on this.]
When the popcorn has been thoroughly shaken, fold the bag over and place in the microwave; cook on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove bag from microwave and shake thoroughly. Put bag back in microwave and cook for another 1 1/2 minutes.
When the caramel popcorn is finished in the microwave, remove bag and carefully pour the popcorn into a large roasting pan -- it will be VERY HOT. Stir to make sure all pieces are coated and allow to dry, stirring every now and then. If you want to stir in candy pieces, chocolate chips or nuts, this is the time to do it. You can also form the popcorn into balls at this time. If you don't want to make popcorn balls, break the popcorn up into smaller pieces.
Store in an airtight container. Serve in a ceramic dish shaped and painted to look like a football.
This recipe makes a lot of caramel popcorn, so take some to a fellow football lover.
I love this recipe because the worst part of the mess is on the inside of that paper grocery bag. Yay, Team Snackage!
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