Fall is here and it’s peak pumpkin spice season everywhere you go. I felt it’s now time for me to share my all time favorite pumpkin spice recipe with you.
I talk sometimes about certain foods or recipes being labors of love and this popcorn falls right into that category. What do I mean by that exactly? In simple terms, this is not a beginner recipe. Labor of love recipes are worth the work, but they are more work. I make this caramel popcorn maybe twice a year, and always in the fall when the pumpkin spice craze takes over. It is hands down a favorite of anyone who tries it. What makes this recipe so labor intensive? One, the time, start to finish this popcorn will have you at around an hour and half active time. Two, homemade caramel is no joke. I’m talking corn syrup, an entire stick of butter, playing around with chemical reactions and lots of stirring. It’s sticky business but it’s also completely delicious. Caramel from scratch is easy to burn, and if burnt, is ruined, trust me I know! That being said, caramel from scratch done correctly is quite a high accomplishment for self taught home cooks like myself (and soon to be you lovely followers.) Now hopefully I didn’t turn you off from this recipe, because it really is one of my favorites. It’s just before you get started I want to make sure you’re prepared especially if this is your first time making caramel, but fear not, that’s what I’m here for!
Let’s dive in, tips for success, be prepared! Have all of your ingredients laid out and measured out ahead of time if you can. Have all of your dishes ready to go, this one requires a good small nonstick sauce pot and a large baking sheet, you’ll also need a large sauce pot with a lid, to make the homemade popcorn in. Parchment paper is a must, a very large (stainless steel if you have it) mixing bowl, as well as a good rubber spatula. It’s also important to delegate the job of doing dishes. Caramel is sticky sweet, but it’ll also stick to everything it touches. Enlist a spouse, friend, child or any other willing participant to handle the dishes for you. Most importantly a big ol’ dose of patience, as well as treating yourself with some kindness. I have burnt more caramels than I can count and it sucks! Not only is it a waste of time, money, ingredients and effort, it’s also stinky and a nightmare to clean up! Alright let’s get to it.
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
In a large, deep pot (such as a spaghetti pot) heat your 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil with 1/2 cup popcorn kernels over medium heat. Cover your pot with a lid about 90% of the way, you want a little sliver of air flow to help the kernels pop, but not a big enough space that the popcorn pops out of the pot. Watch and listen closely as the kernels start to pop and once the popping slows down, take your pot of popcorn off the heat and set aside. While your popcorn is cooling, preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Next carefully sift through your popcorn, discarding any unpopped kernels. This is an important step, once you cover all the popcorn in delicious caramel it will be hard to differentiate caramel pieces from any caramel covered kernels and we don’t want anyone to lose a filling!
Now it’s time to make your caramel. First step, in a small sauce pot melt an entire stick of unsalted butter over medium heat. Once your butter is melted add in your corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Bring your caramel mixture to a boil, while still stirring frequently, making sure that all of the sugar dissolves. Reduce your caramel to a low simmer, for 5 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so. This is very important!! Caramel is hard to burn if you keep it moving, so keep stirring and keep a watchful eye on the color. A light to medium brown is ideal, anything in the dark brown to black zone isn’t a good sign. Once your 5 minutes are up, move your caramel off the heat and get ready to see a little science in real life. Stir in your vanilla and baking soda and watch the caramel bubble up a little bit from the chemical reaction. Now your caramel is done! Dump your de-kerneled popcorn into a large mixing bowl, pour your warm caramel over and stir, stir, stir to coat it all. Then pour the caramel popcorn onto your parchment paper lined baking sheet as evenly as you can and put it into the oven. This next step is also important. You will set your timer for 15 minutes, then take the caramel popcorn out of the oven and stir it with the rubber spatula. It will then go back into the oven for another 15 minutes and you will repeat this process for an hour. For a total of an hour baking time with 4 stirring sessions every 15 minutes, the fourth being once it’s done. Let the caramel corn cool and then enjoy! It will keep in an airtight container 7-10 days, but not a chance it’ll last that long!
Below are some pictures to give you an idea of color and consistency for the caramel sauce.
I know that sounds like a lot, and the first time you make it will be intense. HOWEVER, the payoff is worth it. The flavor is somehow light and refreshing with a perfectly crunchy texture, and no artificial “pumpkin spice” flavors. The best part is once you make this caramel popcorn it’s not as intimidating to make again (and again and again.)
I tried to take a lot of process pictures of this one to help you be successful in making it. I know it’s got more than a few steps, and being a visual learner myself I hope these help. The first picture below shows the popcorn before being put in the oven, popcorn in the second is after it was baked and stirred for an hour. You can see how the coverage becomes more prominent and the texture crunchier.