Way back in early August, I opened up my Pinterest page and – BAM! – it looked like autumn had exploded all over it! Any hint of summer had been taken over by recipes featuring pumpkin, caramel, cinnamon, or apples. All I could think was, “Guys, isn’t it still AUGUST?! Can’t I just make one more salad before we go headfirst into harvest season???”
And now here we are, fully enveloped in beautiful Autumn leaves and pumpkin spice lattes, halfway to winter…and I’m just now publishing my first fall recipe. I feel a bit sheepish.
So I’ll make up for it by sharing a favorite family recipe from my childhood. While not exclusive to fall – like pumpkin chocolate chip cookies really are – this recipe can (and should!) be made year-round. But there’s just something particularly autumn-ish about caramel. And caramel popcorn. So, as my first (and perhaps only…sigh) fall recipe this year, allow me to share with you one of my family’s classic sweet treats: homemade caramel popcorn.This isn’t the kind of crunchy caramel popcorn akin to Cracker Jacks. This is the gooey kind that sticks to your teeth and your fingers and anything else it touches. It keeps the popcorn soft and chewy, and dangerously addictive. The only bad part of this recipe is that it sits out on your counter top on waxed paper or cookie sheets while it cools…and every time you walk by it, you can’t resist taking a handful…or two…or…yeah…seriously, addictive. You’ve been warned.
I made the mistake of making this for a game night with some friends recently. It sounded like a great idea, until I remembered that we were having a GAME night…as in we’d be touching dice or cards or other game pieces with our fingers constantly. Bad idea. Every time it was my turn, I had to lick all my fingers to get the caramel off of them. So…whoops. #worthit
Have I convinced you to make this yet?!? I hope so! Here are a couple tips that might ease your first time making this:
- The recipe as-written is massive. Do you have any idea how much 4 gallons of popcorn is?! No, because it’s a ridiculous amount! It’s a great amount if you’re taking it to a party with lots of people. But if it’s just for a small gathering, you can sure think about saving your waistline and halving the recipe. However, then you have to deal with half a can of leftover condensed milk…but there are worst things, my friends. (You could also just pop less popcorn – say 2-3 gallons – and use the same amount of caramel. Ain’t no one gonna complain about extra caramelly popcorn.)
- You want to make sure you don’t get any popcorn kernels in your finished product. Here’s my method (though if you have a less tedious way to do this, I’d LOVE to hear it!): I pop my popcorn in a cool microwave popcorn popper. After you’ve popped a batch, pour it into the 1st container (let’s call it LB1, for Large Bowl #1). Then, take one handful at a time and examine it, removing any unpopped kernels. Once you’re sure there are no kernels in that handful, deposit it into a gallon pitcher. Pop another batch and repeat. Once the pitcher is filled and you’ve measured a gallon, pour it into Large Bowl #2 (LG2) where it will wait until it is bathed in a stream of heavenly caramel delight. Follow the process, filling enough bowls until you reach 4 gallons (see next note).
- Like I said, it’s a lot of popcorn. You’ll do a lot of batch work if you’re making a full recipe. I had out 2 mixing bowls and 2 pitchers, and filled them all with popcorn before mixing in the caramel. I had to mix it in 3 or 4 batches (ie. mix one batch in a bowl, pour it onto the waxed paper, pour another batch that was sitting in the pitcher into the bowl, pour the caramel over that bowl and mix, repeat, etc.).
- As soon as you pour it out onto the waxed paper, you will be DYING to reach down, take an entire fistful, and devour it. DON’T! Trust me! That stuff will burn off all your tastebuds, which would be a great travesty knowing the mountain of tasty caramel corn you won’t be able to fully enjoy after that. Give it a few minutes to cool down before digging in. (But it doesn’t have to be fully cooled…I mean, who has that kind of self-restraint, really?)
- 1 cup white corn syrup
- 2½ cups brown sugar
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- ½ C. butter
- ¼ tst salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 4 gallons popped popcorn
- Line a heat-safe counter top or 3 cookie sheets with waxed paper. Set aside.
- Pop popcorn, being careful to remove any unpopped kernels.
- Pour corn syrup and brown sugar into a medium saucepan over medium heath. Heat, stirring frequently, until boilng.
- Add sweetened condensed milk and cook to soft ball (between 234° and 244°), stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat. Add butter, salt, and vanilla, and stir until smooth.
- Put the popcorn into a large mixing bowl (or bowls). Carefully pour the caramel over the popcorn, stir gently, and then spread it out on the waxed paper to cool.