Caramel popcorn is great. Homemade caramel popcorn spiced up with some cayenne and cardamom is even better. I actually made 7 different varieties of caramel popcorn but the recipe below was my favorite. It’s a fun and easy endeavor that you can perfect quickly. Once you perfect the method, you can easily switch out spices, include cashews, almonds, peanuts, dried fruit etc.
• 1/2 cup plain popcorn kernels
• 1.5 cups sugar
• 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 1/2 cup water
• 4 tbsp butter
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 tbsp salt
• 2 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon
• 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you want it)
• 1/2 tsp cardamom
• large mixing bowl, 2 spatulas, parchment paper, 2 baking sheets, cooking spray
Spray a large mixing bowl (probably the largest you own), 2 spatulas and 2 parchment paper lined baking sheets with cooking spray. Using an air popper, pop 1/2 cup kernels without oil. If you don’t own an air popper follow the stovetop instructions on the popcorn bag. You can also use this link as a reference. Once popped, place the popcorn in the greased bowl*. In a small bowl combine baking soda, cinnamon, cayenne and cardamom and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine sugars, corn syrup, water, butter, vanilla and salt.
Immediately, evenly pour the warm slurry on the popped popcorn and toss together with greased spatulas. Spread the popcorn onto the 2 baking sheets in an even layer. Cool to room temperature (about 10 minutes) and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
*If you pop your popcorn far in advance (or buy it pre-popped) then wait until your slurry is bubbling on the stove before putting the popcorn in the greased bowl. The moisture from the cooking spray will soften the popcorn kernels if left to sit there.
**Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. When combined with moisture and an acidic component (brown sugar, molasses, honey, lemon, etc), a chemical reaction occurs, releasing carbon dioxide. It is added to caramel popcorn since it causes foaming that helps coat the popcorn and prevents the popcorn from sticking together. Baking soda also eliminates excessive humidity, aids browning (it typically neutralizes the acidity in a batter to aid in browning) and gives the caramel a lighter texture. The Maillard reaction, a nonenzymatic browning reaction, occurs better in alkaline environments so baking soda is often added to neutralize the acidic mixture to increase browning. In the case of caramel popcorn, not many amino acids are present so the baking soda’s main purpose is its foaming action.