How to Make Caramel Popcorn on the Stove

  • Author: Sue Dorrens
  • Published: October 3, 2022
  • Time to read: 9 min.

Want to make the most luscious, crunchy, rich caramel popcorn on the stove? If that sounds pretty great, be sure to scroll down to try an easy homemade caramel popcorn recipe that’ll knock your socks off.

You don’t need to be a pastry chef to make mind-blowing caramel popcorn; you just need to pay attention to a few key steps. Beware, though, this may be your favorite new snack/treat. Maybe make a double batch?

How Do You Make Easy Caramel Popcorn?

The most common method to make easy caramel popcorn is to use a trio of base ingredients: brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter. There are variations, of course, but that’s the basic idea.

Want to try it?

Check out this recipe for a surefire way to satisfy those cravings. The amount of popcorn needed is a range based on preference. Use less if you prefer your caramel popcorn to be generously coated in caramel. If you prefer a light coating, use more.

Here’s all of what you’ll need:

  • 8-10 cups popped popcorn (method doesn’t matter, but make sure it’s plain)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

And here’s how to do it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200F, and spread the popcorn in a single layer across parchment-lined baking sheets (use as many as necessary to keep it in a single layer). Be sure to remove any unpopped kernels.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except for the vanilla extract and baking soda to a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once it’s boiling, stop stirring and allow it to boil for 4-5 minutes, until dark and frothy.
  3. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and baking soda quickly. The color will lighten, and it will foam/froth more.
  4. While still warm, pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn and stir to coat evenly (or use your hands with gloves).
  5. Bake for one hour, stirring and rotating the pan every 20 minutes to ensure even cooking.

Be sure to allow the popcorn to cool fully before consuming or storing it. The final crunchy texture won’t be achieved until it’s thoroughly cooled.

Why Do You Add Baking Soda to Caramel Popcorn?

Baking soda might seem like a bit of a silly thing to add to caramel popcorn, but it does an essential job of stopping the caramel from going too hard.

When you add baking soda to your caramel mixture, it foams up and makes tiny air bubbles. These get trapped in the caramel and keep it soft yet crunchy.

What Happens if I Forget to Add Baking Soda to My Caramel Popcorn?

We’ve all been there. Forgetting to put an ingredient in a recipe is easy to do and it’s usually a case of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. But will forgetting baking soda ruin your caramel popcorn?

The answer is yes, it most likely will. Caramel popcorn that has been made without baking soda will be tough and challenging to chew. You may still be able to eat it, but there is a risk that it will damage your teeth.

Using Store-Bought Caramel

If you want caramel corn without making the sauce from scratch, you can use store-bought caramel candies or caramel sauce. Using store-bought caramel sauce will be the quickest method.

Store-Bought Caramel Candies

This method is quicker than making the sauce entirely from scratch, although there is a little cooking involved. The results should still be similar to homemade, albeit a touch sweeter due to the artificial nature of the processed caramel.

Here’s what you’ll need for this version:

  • 8-10 cups popped popcorn (method doesn’t matter, but make sure it’s plain)
  • 11 oz soft caramels
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon water

And here’s how to do it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300F, and spread the popcorn in a single layer across parchment-lined baking sheets (use as many as necessary to keep it in a single layer). Be sure to remove any unpopped kernels.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to a saucepan. Cook on low heat until the caramels are fully melted, stirring constantly.
  3. While still warm, pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn and stir to coat evenly (or use your hands with gloves).
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring and rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even cooking.

As with the homemade version, allow the popcorn to cool fully before eating or storing it. The caramel will harden slightly to provide that signature crunchy texture.

Store-Bought Caramel Sauce

Want the quickest way to make caramel popcorn? Use store-bought caramel sauce.

The method is the same as with the store-bought caramel candies above. Instead of heating the caramel on the stove, you could use a microwave instead.

Making Caramel Popcorn with Alternative Ingredients

Caramel Popcorn on the Stove

Caramel Popcorn Without Sugar

Don’t want to eat sugar but want to partake in some caramel corn deliciousness? No worries. You can make this recipe with virtually any granulated sweetener. The taste will vary depending on your choice, but the results will be similar.

Just be sure to keep an eye on it while cooking, as some sweeteners won’t take as long to caramelize, so your cooking time may be less than with regular brown sugar.

Want to choose something with a lower glycemic index than sugar?

Try these natural sugars: maple, date, or coconut. They have a similar color and consistency to brown sugar but a much lower glycemic index. The results should turn out very similar to this base recipe.

Caramel Popcorn Without Butter

You can make delicious caramel corn without butter. You can substitute any oil at a 1:1 ratio, although certain oils will work better than others. For the rich flavor of caramel corn, coconut oil would be a great substitution.

TIP – If you don’t want the coconut flavor to come through much, choose refined coconut oil instead of unrefined.

You can also try vegan butter, although you’ll want to double-check the ingredients list to ensure it works for your diet.

Caramel Popcorn Without Corn Syrup

You can make caramel popcorn without corn syrup with a simple change to the recipe. The results will be slightly less sweet yet still unbelievably delicious.

Simply increase the amount of butter to ¾ cup to balance the wet/dry ingredient ratio. Follow the rest of the recipe, and you’ll have delicious, corn syrup-free caramel corn.

Why is My Caramel Popcorn Not Crunchy?

Caramel popcorn can be delicious, whether it’s chewy or crunchy, although most people do have a preference. Caramel popcorn can become soggy or chewy for a few reasons:

  • You didn’t bake the popcorn long enough after coating it in the caramel sauce
  • The caramel sauce is undercooked (cooked at too low of a temperature)
  • It’s been sitting out too long or stored improperly

Thankfully, these issues can be quickly resolved.

How to Fix Soggy Caramel Popcorn

There are a few methods to try to make your caramel popcorn crunchier. The first thing to try is to bake it longer. This will set the caramel better, allowing that crunchy texture to break through.

And if that doesn’t work?

Unfortunately, if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to make a new batch. Think back to making that first batch. Did you cook the caramel sauce until it was dark, golden, and frothy? If undercooked, it won’t set correctly to achieve that crunchy texture.

The storing method could be at fault if you’re sure you did that part correctly and baked it long enough. Be sure to use an air-tight container because oxygen is not your friend when storing crunchy, homemade goods such as caramel popcorn.

How Long Does Homemade Caramel Popcorn Last?

As long as you use an airtight container, homemade caramel popcorn can keep for up to two weeks while remaining fresh. If you want it to last longer, you can freeze it to make it last up to a year. Be sure to allow it to cool completely before freezing, and use airtight freezer bags.

And when you’re ready to eat it?

Thankfully, it doesn’t freeze solid. When you remove it from the freezer, check the texture to see if it’s softened. If it feels soft, simply bake it in a 250-degree oven until it’s crunchy. This can take anywhere from 10-60 minutes (be sure to check frequently).

Why is My Caramel Popcorn Grainy?

If your caramel popcorn is grainy, it’s because the caramel sauce has sugar crystals. The recipe for homemade caramel popcorn on the stove above is unlikely to have such issues due to its corn syrup element, which prevents crystallization.

If your caramel sauce is grainy, don’t throw it away. You can fix it with a couple of easy steps before using it on your next batch of caramel popcorn.

How to Fix Grainy Caramel Sauce

To fix grainy caramel sauce, you need to add an ingredient that encourages those sugar crystals to separate. It’s as simple as that. The type of heat also matters, so pay attention when making your second batch to make sure it turns out just right.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Add a little bit of corn syrup or honey
  • Use medium heat (both low and high heat can cause crystallization)
  • Add a squeeze of lemon juice (no more than one teaspoon)

There you have it; a quick, easy method for making caramel popcorn on the stove without any fancy ingredients or a culinary arts degree. You can easily substitute ingredients to work with your diet, make large batches to keep for when snack cravings hit hard, and elevate movie night to a new level.

Is Caramel Popcorn Unhealthy?

If you love caramel popcorn as much as us, you’re probably hoping the answer to this question is no, but sadly, that’s not the case.

Caramel popcorn is packed full of calories and sugar (14 g per serving), which is why it’s unhealthy. One cup of air-popped popcorn typically contains between 30 and 40 calories. But when you pour just one ounce of caramel on it, you add an additional 140 calories to the popcorn.

Adding caramel to your popcorn will also increase the carbohydrate content by 21 g and cholesterol by 15.1 mg.

Even though caramel popcorn isn’t the healthiest snack you can choose, you can still enjoy it as part of a balanced diet. Just make sure you don’t overindulge in this yummy treat too often.

If you do want to tuck into a big bowl of popcorn without the guilt, try these flavorings instead:

What Happens if You Eat Too Much Caramel Corn?

There’s nothing wrong with eating caramel corn occasionally. The problems come when you eat it excessively due to the caramel content. These problems may include:

  • Eating too much sugar – Americans already eat up to three times the recommended amount of sugar per day. There’s a lot of sugar in caramel corn, and this could increase your sugar consumption even more. Overeating sugar puts you at risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and inflammation.
  • Eating too many calories – the high amount of calories in caramel makes it easy to eat more than the recommended daily amount. Frequently eating too many calories can lead to weight gain and obesity.
  • Dental health problems – we all know that sugar is terrible for our teeth, but caramel is even worse because it sticks to and around the teeth and gums and is harder to get off. This is why it’s best to only eat caramel corn now and then.
  • Increased triglycerides – unhealthy foods, such as caramel, can increase triglyceride levels in the body. Triglycerides are waxy fats that give your body energy. But if you have too many in your body, you’re at risk of heart disease.

What’s the Difference Between Caramel Corn and Kettle Corn?

Caramel corn and kettle corn are both sweet types of corn that are addictive, but there are big differences between them.

Kettle corn is traditionally made in a cast iron kettle pot with oil, sugar, and salt. As you’ll know from the recipe above, the cooking process for caramel corn is simpler but requires you to make a batch of caramel.

Different types of popcorn are used too. Caramel corn is made with butterfly kernels and mushroom kernels are used to make kettle corn.

Caramel corn is arguably the sweeter and tastier of the two due to it being completely smothered in crispy caramel.

Caramel popcorn is one of the best ways to enjoy popcorn. It has a sweet, delicious taste and almost melts in your mouth. If you’ve never tried caramel corn, we strongly suggest trying our recipe above, as you won’t regret it!

Sources

https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/grandmas-caramel-corn/
https://www.myfoodandfamily.com/recipe/063368/easy-caramel-popcorn
https://www.godairyfree.org/dairy-substitutes/how-to-substitute-oil-for-butter
https://foodsguy.com/freeze-caramel-corn/
https://missvickie.com/how-to-fix-grainy-caramel-sauce/

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