Crunchy caramel corn is a delicious snack to break out at parties or on movie nights. A hint of paprika and a sprinkle of sea salt balance the smoky sweetness of caramel beautifully. The recipe below has just a hint of spice, but feel free to increase the heat to suit your palate. Baked in the oven, the caramel corn crisps up, making it ready to store at room temp for a week or more.
Makes: about 8 cups
For the caramel:
- 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
For the popcorn:
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup corn kernels
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon spicy paprika, plus more to taste
- 1/4teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- First, make the popcorn. Set a 6-quart (or larger) pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add vegetable oil and five corn kernels, and cover. As soon as you hear the kernels pop, remove the cover, add remaining corn kernels, and recover. Once the corn starts to pop, wearing oven mitts, hold lid in place and shake frequently. Cook about 5 minutes, or until the time between popping kernels slows to five seconds.Tip popped corn into a large mixing bowl.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
- Making caramel is simple, but keep in mind that molten sugar is incredibly hot and should be handled with care. Make sure children are out of the kitchen and that you have everything you’ll need at the ready. Caramel sometimes splatters and you may want to wear long sleeves or oven mitts to protect your arms. To make caramel, set a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with deep sides over medium-high heat. (Note that you want a larger saucepan than you think you’ll need to contain pops and sputters.)
- Add the sugar. Whisk occasionally as sugar starts to melt. Once all the sugar has melted and is beginning to turn golden, after about 5 minutes, add the butter and stand back, just in case it sputters. Whisk butter into the caramel and, when completely melted, remove the saucepan from heat and carefully stir in cream–cream may pop and sputter as well. Stir until smooth. Pour mixture into a jar or bowl and set aside to cool.
- Drizzle half the caramel over the popcorn and stir. Stirring constantly, add sea salt, paprika, and pepper. Fold in remaining caramel. Add additional salt or spices to taste (If serving grown-ups, you may want to up the spice.)
- Spread caramel corn out on prepared baking sheet. Bake 60 minutes, stirring after 30 minutes. Cool caramel corn completely and store in an airtight container for up to one week.