Caramel Popcorn

Why have I never made my own popcorn before? I have no good answer, but I know I will be making it more often because: It is good; It is cheap; It is better than buying it in a little bag; It is healthier than greasy movie popcorn; it is more versatile; it is fun!
I have had this beautiful jar of popcorn for a while now. I got it as a gift from M’s grandma for Christmas, and it has been living on my shelf among other jarred items like rice and pasta. I finally had a good reason to make some. The Frankenart Mart (where I began this crazy baking adventure) was having a movie themed art show, and how can a movie theater operate without snacks like popcorn? Usually I just blurt these ideas out to Leslie, and she gets really excited and holds me to them. She gave me a specific weekend (I believe they were showing a documentary about Grandmas and something else I can’t remember) and I promised some caramel popcorn. Regular popcorn seemed too easy – and I get really excited about gourmet things. Does it qualify as gourmet if you can get it in a giant 5 gallon bucket (or tin – but really people it is a fancy bucket chock full of crunchy flavored popcorn) from the store in the mall during the holidays? Lets hope so.

It was really satisfying to hear the little ‘tings’ as the popcorn hit the lid of the pan. I imagine M thought I was a little crazy smiling and hovering over the stove. I probably do this enough that is doesn’t seem abnormal to him anymore. The popping instructions below provide excellent results. Nothing was burned and everything popped. Can you say that about microwave popcorn? I don’t think so.
The popcorn was delicious by itself. I could have eaten it without salt (and I like salt). I recommend the grocery bag as your mixing device if you are going to add caramel. If not, a big bowl that you can stick between you and your lovely on the couch for movie night will do. I hope you make this, just think of all the possibilities!

How to Make Popcorn on the Stovetop:

adapted from Simply Recipes

3 T canola oil
1/3 C popcorn kernels
large covered stockpot

(butter and salt if you are not covering it in caramel)

heat the oil over medium high heat. Toss in 4 kernels and put the lid on (while it is heating). As soon as all 4 kernels pop, add the 1/3 cup kernels and remove the pan from heat. Cover with the lid and shake the pan back and forth to coat the kernels. Count to 30, then put the pan back over the heat and continue heating until all the corn pops.

(If you are not covering with Caramel do this: Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Melt butter in the pan – about 2 T and add melted butter over the top. Stir to combine)

If you are coating with caramel, follow these steps: Add the popcorn to a large paper bag. Repeat the popping process so you have nearly 5 quarts of popcorn. Add this to the bag as well.

To make the Caramel:
1/2 C butter
1 3/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C honey
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 250˚F. In a 3 c saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in brown sugar and honey. Increase the heat to med-high. Bring to a boil and continue for about 4 minutes. Add salt and vanilla. Stir with a heat safe spatula. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in baking soda. Careful! This mix will foam up (like making peanut brittle) and may try to escape the pan. Quickly pour over the popcorn in the paper bag. Fold the top of the bag over and shake for 2 minutes until the popcorn is evenly covered.

Spray a large rimmed pan and pour the caramel popcorn into the pan. Stir with a spatula to make sure they are coated evenly. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour stirring every 20 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and spread across a sheet of waxed paper to dry overnight (or consume immediately). You can package them and give as gifts or serve at a party.
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