Caramel Corn

Have you had a Lazy Movie Day this summer?

I’m talking about one of those spectacular days where all you do is stay inside, camp out on the couch and watch movies. You don’t fold towels. You don’t return e-mails. You become one with your Inner Sloth, except for one tiny blip of productivity: making movie snacks.

Last Saturday, Jeff and I declared a Lazy Movie Day, and I finally had an excuse to make the Caramel Peanut Popcorn I’d bookmarked in “DamGoodSweet.” Freshly popped popcorn enrobed in sweet buttery caramel and studded with peanuts. I thought I needed to wait for a special occasion to make it, but this stuff brings the party.

Don’t let the idea of making the caramel hold you back. A lot of people are freaked out by the idea of using a candy thermometer, but the right one can make a huge difference. I highly recommend the Taylor Classic. It’s extremely easy to read, and it has a metal clip that holds the thermometer to your pan, so you don’t have to worry about it sliding down or falling out. (You can see it in action in the fourth photo of my marshmallow tutorial.)

Am I pushing this because I have stock in a candy thermometer company? No. But there’s no reason to let a $12 tool stand between you and being able to make caramel, ice cream, Italian meringue buttercream frosting, marshmallows and other candies. Plus, many candy thermometers do double-duty for deep-frying, so you could also be mastering fried chicken, apple fritters and doughnuts.

Thermometers are our friends.

Once you have your candy thermometer, you make the caramel by simmering brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and water and making sure it reaches 250 degrees F. Then, you take the mixture off the heat, whisk in the vanilla and baking soda, and pour it over the popcorn. That’s it for the caramel. If you’ve ever simmered soup in a saucepan or made boil-in-a-bag rice, you can make caramel. You don’t need courage, just a thermometer.

After the Caramel Peanut Popcorn bakes for an hour, you’re supposed to let it cool for 20 minutes, but we weren’t that strong. The caramel smell alone kept luring us back into the kitchen for another handful. We wound up sharing a big bowl and storing the rest in an airtight container, but you could serve it in bowls, paper bags, party hats or paper cones. Just don’t put too much effort into it. It’s Lazy Movie Day.

Caramel Peanut Popcorn

Adapted from David Guas and Raquel Pelzel’s “DamGoodSweet”

Feel free to substitute toasted sliced almonds or chopped pecans for the peanuts.

Makes about 10 cups

  • 1 (3.5-ounce) package plain microwave popcorn (or 3.5 ounces of popping corn)
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup lightly salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside,
  2. Pop the popcorn according to the package instructions. Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and transfer the popcorn from the bag to the bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, whisk the sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and 2 tablespoons of water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 250 degrees F on a candy thermometer, 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the vanilla and baking soda. Immediately pour the hot mixture over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn until all of the popcorn is coated.
  5. Gently stir in the peanuts, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Gluten-Free Tip: Be sure to use GF popcorn and butter.