Chef's Hat: Adventures in caramel corn

Get creative when making caramel corn with various add-in ingredients, like nuts, chocolate, dried fruit and bacon


If you’re craving a sweet and rich snack, nothing hits the spot better than a handful of caramel corn. This snack of popcorn covered with a sugar- or molasses-based caramel shell seems like it would take a master chef to whip up, but it is actually quite simple to make.

However, there are a few tips to keep in mind to make sure your batch of caramel corn turns out perfect.

First off, make sure the caramel is cooked properly. It has to be brought to the proper temperature or it will be too sticky or grainy. In the beginning, when the butter, sugar and corn syrup are melting together, the mixture must be constantly stirred. Once the mixture begins to boil, you leave it alone. You keep cooking the caramel at a low boil just until a candy thermometer reaches 285 degrees (about 5 to 8 minutes).

The second tip refers to the baking soda. Once the mixture reaches 285 degrees, you remove it from the heat, add the baking soda and mix well. This step causes the caramel to get bubbly and foamy. The baking soda fills the caramel with air, which makes it easier to coat the popcorn and helps to ensure a rich, crunchy coating.

The last, but not least, important step is proper baking. The mixture must be evenly spread out in a pan and baked in a low temperature oven. This lets the caramel sauce melt and cover each piece of popcorn and gives the sauce time to develop that crispy texture.


Think caramel corn is a bit boring? You can get creative!

  • Add chunks of bacon; spice up your caramel corn with chili powder; or add a few drops of hot sauce.
  • Mix in nuts, chocolate chips, raisins or dried cranberries to make a trail mix.
  • Make a tropical caramel corn by adding dried pineapple, coconut or macadamia nuts.
  • Make a “cookie monster” batch by mixing in chunks of chocolate chip cookies.
  • Drizzle melted white or dark chocolate over the baked caramel corn.
  • Make a s'mores mix by adding graham crackers chunks, mini marshmallows and chocolate chips.

The next time your family is craving a snack, forget about the chocolate cake or ice cream. Whip up a batch of caramel corn and enjoy the sweet, rich lusciousness of this ever popular treat. Happy Eating.
Basic Caramel Corn

  • 12 cups popped popcorn (you can use 2-3 bags of microwave popcorn, or pop the kernels on the stove or in an air popper)
  • ¾ cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup light or dark corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 1 cup white or regular chocolate chips
  • 1-2 teaspoons canola oil or shortening

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar and corn syrup; stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let the mixture simmer on a low boil for 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove. Slowly whisk in the salt, baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will bubble up. Once fully combined, stir in the popcorn and toss until it is evenly coated with the caramel. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so the popcorn is evenly coated.

Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet or pan in an even layer. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove the caramel corn from the oven and transfer to a large plate or a counter top that is covered with parchment or wax paper to cool.

While the mixture is cooling, prepare the chocolate drizzle.

Place chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon oil or shortening into microwavable bowl. Microwave 15 to 20 seconds; remove from microwave and stir. Continue microwaving at 15-second intervals, removing and stirring until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add additional oil/shortening.


Once thoroughly melted, remove drizzle from the microwave. Use a spoon and drizzle over the caramel corn. Let stand 3-4 hours until chocolate is cooled. Place into a container with a tight sealing lid.

Cinnamon Maple Caramel Corn

Adapted from

  • 6 cups popped popcorn
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup real maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
To make the caramel sauce: In a heavy bottomed pot, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium heat. Boil for an additional 2 minutes; reduce heat if necessary to prevent the mixture from overflowing the pan.

Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, butter and salt to the pot of maple syrup. Whisk until well blended. Add the baking soda and vanilla and mix well.

Place the nuts and popcorn in a large bowl. Drizzle the maple mixture over the popcorn and nuts. Place the popcorn onto the baking sheet and arrange it in a single layer.

Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 10 minutes. Stir and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and lightly sprinkle the cinnamon over the caramel corn. Once cooled, place into tightly covered containers.


Drizzle melted white chocolate over a homemade batch of caramel corn for a sweet treat. Donna Evans / Echo Journal Correspondent

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