Caramel Peanut Popcorn

Gluten-Free, Party Food / Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

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.

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29 thoughts on “Caramel Peanut Popcorn

  1. this recipe would be yet another reason why i love you! i recently got laid off, so while i'm awaiting my unemployment info, i've been bored out of my mind…there is only so much cleaning, organizing, sorting, and baking a girl can do!!! I even stained the deck, that's how bored i was. So now i'm utilizing my netflix on the Wii. this recipe is going to hit the spot on those days that the pool isn't an option.
    Thanks for this one!

    1. Oh, man. Being laid off brings on such a weird combination of anxiety, excitement, frustration, relief, boredom and craziness, but I don't know anyone who hasn't come out the other side better off from going through it.

      What have you been watching on Netflix? I haven't tried it with the Wii yet.

  2. Would the world as we know it come to an end if I used air-popped popcorn?? I'm afraid we're going to have to do a family movie night again. I'm completely blaming you.

    1. I accept the blame. And air-popped would be great! I'm sure he specifies microwave popcorn in the recipe, because so many people keep it around.

      1. I'm glad you accepted the blame because I even put the blame on you when I shared this recipe on Facebook! BTW, I did your owl cupcakes for my daughter's birthday party last year. They were a huge hit and super easy to make! The zoo handlers really appreciated the leftovers as well! ;) Thanks for sharing!

      2. Oh, I love the owls! Aren't they easy? They came from "Hello, Cupcake," and it's full of great ideas, especially for different holiday cupcakes.

        Thanks for sharing the recipe on Facebook! It's dangerously easy.

  3. my fiancée makes popcorn almost every night. i could never show him this b/c he'd probably make it more than once a day! looks to die for.



    1. Isn't there some statistic about how people who eat popcorn are happier than average? Sounds like you're doing something right. ;)

  4. My mom has made this for YEARS!! around Christmas time and would put it in buckets for gifts. I can’t tell you how much I love it and the memories it brings back. This recipe sounds very similar to hers. She used air popped:)

    1. Mine, too! Mom puts pecans in hers, and I always eat way too much, but she only makes it once a year. They probably use the same recipe!

    1. Thanks! I usually get my best ideas after a solid day of pure laziness. It's like hitting a mental "reset" button.

    1. Oh, man! I saw "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" AGAIN, because I love that movie, and the first part of "The Bourne Identity." Then Jeff got a phone call, and I switched to "Runaway Bride." ;)

    1. Me, too! When I was a kid, there was a popcorn stand in the center of the mall, and you could not escape the smell of that caramel corn. My mom used to bribe us with the promise of a box if we promised not to whine, fight or generally raise hell. Powerful stuff! You will LOVE this recipe.

    1. My mom's recipe is almost exactly the same, except she uses pecans, and it's absolutely delicious. You'll love it!

  5. I have to admit I am scared of the thermometer…I know, it's silly, but I am always second guessing myself and the temperature.
    I really need to get over it because this popcorn looks great!

    1. Seriously, the right thermometer makes all the difference. I tried a cheap one first and then a pretty expensive one from Williams-Sonoma, and I couldn't read either one! I have to have one with a really thick, totally obvious red line. So, you're not alone! Once you've got the right one, you'll be making up for lost caramel. ;)

  6. Caramel is one of the few things that I have not been afraid to make. Good thing, too '
    'cause I love me some caramel, which means I love me some caramel corn. :)

    1. Oh, me, too. Homemade caramel is soooooo good. I've only made it as a sauce, though. I haven't tried making salted caramels or another caramel candy. Have you?

  7. This looks amazing. I just bought a candy thermometer just for kicks. Now I've got something to use it for. Thanks!

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