15 cups popped plain popcorn (from about 1/2 cup kernels)
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
12 tablespoonsunsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 6 pieces, plus more for coating the pan
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoonslight corn syrup
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoonvanilla extract
1/2 teaspoonbaking soda
15 mins, plus 1 hr baking time
This easy treat—popcorn slathered with buttery caramel—had the CHOW staffers lurking around the test kitchen awaiting the next batch. The caramel corn will last up to a week, making it the perfect gift to package and mail during the holidays.
Game plan: If you’re popping your popcorn on the stovetop, place 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a large pot with a tightfitting lid over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels, cover, and shake to evenly distribute. Once the kernels start popping, gently shake the pot until the popping dies down, about 2 to 3 minutes.
1Heat the oven to 250°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat a large roasting pan with butter and place the popcorn in the pan; set aside.
2Place the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Continue to boil without stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add the vanilla and baking soda, and whisk until the caramel is light in color, foamy, and has doubled in volume, about 10 seconds. Immediately drizzle over the popcorn, stir with a rubber spatula until thoroughly coated, and spread into an even layer.
3Bake, stirring every 15 minutes with a rubber spatula and scraping up any caramel from the bottom of the pan, until a cooled piece of popcorn is very crunchy, about 45 minutes to 1 hour total. (To test for doneness, take a few pieces of popcorn out of the oven and let cool for 30 seconds. If they’re crunchy, then the caramel corn is done.)
4Transfer the caramel corn to a work surface or rimmed baking sheet to cool completely (it will crisp as it cools). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.