Caramel is tricky. Chemically speaking, caramelization is the removal of water from sugar, a breakdown of molecules and re-formation of compounds that yield a distinct flavor. Making caramel can be a complicated business, because it’s a sensitive substance. Rainy days aren’t good for candy making in general, and you’ve got to be careful about stirring or not stirring according to a recipe’s specifications.
When Mike and I lived in Maryland and DC, my caramel popcorn turned out very differently, with a smooth caramel coating that I am yet to achieve in Pittsburgh. In LaPlata, Mike’s coworkers took up collections, giving me the proceeds to buy ingredients and keep them in caramel popcorn on a weekly basis. But here in my sunny Pittsburgh kitchen, the atmosphere, or moisture in the air, or humidity yields a crystalline caramel akin to rock candy, rather than a smooth caramel like it should. I’ve amend my recipe below to feature an additional half-teaspoon of vanilla from what I used today.
- 3/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
- 12 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Using an air popper, pop the popcorn and place it in a large roasting pan; remove any unpopped kernels.
In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then continue boiling, without stirring, for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and add baking soda and vanilla, then stir vigorously to combine; the mixture will puff up a bit and it is very important to do this off of the heat.
Pour immediately over the popcorn and bake for 15 minutes; stir, then bake 5 minutes more.
While the popcorn is baking, spread two large pieces of aluminum foil on a table; tape down at the edges and butter well.
When popcorn is finished baking, spread immediately on the buttered foil to cool.