I always thought caramel popcorn was difficult to make. I have no idea why, but all this time, my assumption kept me from giving it a try.
Boy-oh-boy, was I ever wrong! Not only is it easy to make, it's really yummy, and the ingredients cost next to nothing! I mean...seriously - look at the ingredient list. If you get butter on sale, and watch for a special on the nuts (or leave them out), this is a really frugal snack!
Here's the recipe:
10 c. plain unsalted popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup kernels)
4 T butter, plus more for baking sheet
1 c. coarse chopped pecans (optional, but very good! you could also use peanuts)
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 T. water
1/8 t. salt
You need a big bowl (I use my roasting pan) to mix together the popcorn and the caramel. You also need a large rimmed baking pan for when it goes in the oven.
First, pop the popcorn, grease the baking sheet and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Put the popcorn in the roasting pan and sprinkle the nuts over the top.
Hey, little snacker!!
Combine the butter, brown sugar, water and salt in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Work quickly for this next step, and have the children get out of the way - the syrup is HOT. Drizzle the hot syrup over the popcorn, stirring the popcorn a little as you go, and stir/toss/fold the popcorn to get some of the caramel coating on all the popcorn kernels. The nuts will pretty much sink to the bottom, but no worries...they'll be fine.
When it looks like this...
...transfer it to the baking sheet and bake 45 minutes. Set your timer and stir it around a bit every 15 minutes to break up chunks and get it evenly crisp and yummy.
When you take it out of the oven, it will cool faster if you put it in another container. I washed out the roasting pan while the popcorn mixture was in the oven, then I put it back in there too cool. Once it's cool, eat it. If there is any left (hee hee), store it in an airtight container. It's supposed to keep for up to a week, but we may never know, because it goes FAST!
Notes: I used 1/2 cup of pecans, and we thought there were plenty. For another flavor, use white sugar in place of the brown sugar, add a bit of cinnamon and some red food coloring (and leave out the nuts). For the 'light' version, make more popcorn. In the illustrations above, I used about 16 cups of popcorn, so the sugar/butter goodness is spread out over more servings. (It is still very, very good.)
This would make a great gift. In fact, I think I have to put this recipe away for a while, so I don't overdose on the stuff. Here are some ideas for packaging:
Put some in a clear plastic 'baggie', tie the top shut with a ribbon and welcome someone to the neighborhood. Put it in mason jars or other pretty jars (one of each 'flavor'), cover the lids with pretty cloth and set them in a basket for a sweet, easy (really affordable!) Christmas gift. Fill a huge bowl and take it to a party, or bag it up for the hostess for later.