ACF Certified Promise: The Best Homemade Caramel Popcorn Recipe on The Planet
My grandma Maude would have been 110 this past October. She lived to be 93. Gone 17 years and I miss her every day. She taught me so much more than how to make caramel popcorn and there is nothing like a Grandmother’s love, is there?
Up to Edmonton on the bus she would come, year after year, for the Christmas holidays, a huge box of popcorn cakes in tow. Oh, my!
Lauren makes them and gifts them to her friends every year, as I have for years, as well, though I certainly do not make as much of anything as I used to.
This year was a little different and reminiscent of old times. A good gal pal of mine, Su, wanted to get together to make homemade gifts for her friends for Christmas. Now, Su has zillions of friends and is always doing the sweetest and most thoughtful things for everyone she knows, so I was so honoured and tickled to have an entire day to spend making caramel popcorn with her for her friends. Of course, we made some for me, too. Ten batches for her, two batches for me and the week prior, 5 batches for me. When I say “me”, I have two left for my family at this house, but that is plenty!
Grandma Maude’s Caramel Popcorn: Mis en Place is important if making batches!
It took only an hour for Ragan and me to make 5 batches after I had everything prepped and ready to go. That part took me 90 minutes. So, about 1/2 hour per batch is a fair time estimate. Of course, the more helpers you have, the faster the process. And one batch? This is not a recipe where one will ever be enough. It is just that scrumptious.
I often pop the popcorn the day prior, and place the portion for each batch in its own plastic bag. We definitely buy and quarter 1/2 cup red and green jujubes per batch a few days in advance and I portion them out in small baggies or cups, as well. The nuts are measured, toasted then portioned. The day of, I butter a big bowl for mixing the caramel popcorn generously, place one batch of the popped corn in it, and carefully sprinkle the red and green jujubes over the top. I have learned not to mix them into the popcorn, as they are heavier than the popped corn, and will immediately fall to the bottom of the bowl making it much more difficult to evenly distribute their colourful fruity goodness.
Certainly, there is no need to pre-measure the vanilla if you are just doing a batch, or two. But, with 3 or more batches, it is easier. The baking soda is also premeasured, then poured into the top of the nuts as the caramel cooks. Immediately upon reaching temperature, the heat is turned off and the nuts and baking soda are added and stirred into the caramel, then the vanilla is also added. The distribution of the baking soda is more thorough when on top of the nuts, not when mixed into the nuts.
Everything to be added to the caramel mixture is placed beside the stove top to be easily accessible when the caramel reaches its temperature.
Grandma Maude’s Caramel Popcorn: Making the Caramel Sauce
The mis en place for each batch of caramel sauce in each individual bowl is transferred to a heavy pot when ready for the next batch. Heating it for 40 seconds before moving it into the heavy pot helped thin out the viscosity of the corn syrup and the ingredients plop into the pot with the aid of a spatula.
I have also learned the hard way that one candy thermometer is never enough. I always use two when making any candy. I have 4 here, but this year, only two were working properly. It is true that the ice cube soft-ball test will work, but that takes longer and is “iffy”. When working in batches, it is faster and more consistent to have the thermometers.
Very technical. Love the thermometer on my hood fan, and you can see Ragan’s hand, to the left holding the infra-red thermometer which worked like a charm as second confirmation.
No need to stir at all once ingredients are melted.
Grandma Maude’s Caramel Popcorn: Making the Caramel Corn
That was fast! As soon as the sauce reaches temperature, take it off of the heat, dump the toasted nuts with the baking soda into the caramel, and stir rigorously. Add the vanilla and stir to combine, then immediately move to the heavily buttered bowl with the popped corn and red and green jujubes and pour the caramel over the top of it.
Using a wooden spoon or a silicon spatula, stir gently but swiftly to coat every kernel of popped corn while the sauce is still very hot and moving easily, then butter your fingers and press it gently onto a parchment covered cookie sheet or into a well-buttered angel food cake pan. Set outside to cool.
Grandma made the popcorn cakes for years and years until mom started making them for friends and packed the batches away in ice cream buckets. Then, Grandma would arrive with a large box laden with ice cream buckets over-flowing with popped caramel corn. My sister and I would sit in the family room in the basement, well into our adult years, watching TV, double-fistedly shoveling the gooey goodness into our mouths. Of course, we couldn’t talk. Ohhhh, there was nothing like Grandmas’ caramel popcorn!
Somehow, it isn’t the same when I make it. But of course, it tastes the same. Eating it just isn’t as pleasurable without Grandma’s touch.
One year, Luciana and I made 50 of these cakes together. Prepped the day before and made 50 the next day. I had each earmarked for gift giving, but I think she had already other gifts for most of her pals, as I do believe she still had some piled in her garage months later. Suffice it to say, we never made close to that many again. Each batch has 11-12 cups of popped corn, so three lovely gifts can be made of one batch, in reality. Twelve small popcorn balls can be made from one batch, too!
Grandma Maude once asked me if I wanted a snack when I was sleeping over at her house, and she made popcorn balls at 10 o’clock at night! Popcorn balls! Who does that? Grandma Maude, that’s who! When the family comes home, before their coats are off, they are eating some caramel corn. This will always and forever be a Christmas treat at our home during the holidays and we all remember her warm, fluffy tender hug! Would love to hear about your family holiday sweet munchy treats. Care to share?
Grandma Maude's Famous Christmas "Poppycock" or Caramel Popcorn
Grandma Maude's "Poppycock" or "Popcorn Cakes" are an integral Christmas family tradition: the best Caramel Popcorn recipe you will find on the planet! Friends and family look forward to their Christmas “Poppycock” gifts. She used to butter an angel food cake pan generously, and pour hot coated corn directly into the pan (pressing gently to push out holes). Then she would wrap these "cakes” and gift them. Each batch makes one angel food cake pan full. This is usually a production at our house. We never make less that 4-5 at once.
Ingredients for Caramel Corn:
- ½ cup corn or 11 cups popped corn
- 1 cup of salted mixed nuts , toasted
- ½ cup red and green jujubes (if using Santa faces, cut each into four)
- Butter for buttering pans , bowls and hands
- Parchment paper
Ingredients for Caramel Sauce:
- Place the following in a heavy sauce pan:
- 1 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
- 1 cup butter
- ½ cup golden corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Prepare in Advance, per batch
Pop 11 cups of popcorn ( ½ cup of kernels popped in oil makes about 11 cups of popped corn)
cup of salted mixed nuts, toasted
½ cup of red and green jujubes (if using Santa faces, cut each into four)
a buttered mixing bowl (place popped corn into this bowl and sprinkle pre-cut jujubes over top of corn)
a cookie sheet, buttered well, or layered with parchment paper
candy thermometer (2, if making a few batches)
Place ½ teaspoon soda and 1 teaspoon vanilla beside bowl with corn and jujubes for immediate addition to sauce once removed from heat
Instructions for Caramel Sauce:
Place first 4 ingredients into heavy pan, insert candy thermometer, and bring to a boil on medium heat to 250 degrees, just before hard ball stage, or right at it
While watching the thermometer, place cup of toasted nuts nearby, empty 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda into nuts; move vanilla beside nuts to be ready to add immediately into caramel once temperature is achieved
Watch thermometer; once temperature is achieved, double tempo: immediately remove from heat…
*Watch carefully: it takes quite a while to approach this temp, then is suddenly there (if higher temp is achieved, a very brittle product results)
Instructions for the Caramel Corn:
Immediately remove caramel from heat; add soda, vanilla, nuts and stir very quickly to combine
Pour sauce over popcorn and jujubes; using wooden spoon, stir rigorously and gently to coat all kernels
Lay well coated kernels onto parchment covered (or well buttered) cookie sheet, and flatten gently
Cool; break into smaller pieces and pack in airtight container
especially if in a mold; mold in well buttered angel food cake pan, unmold and wrap well in plastic wrap, then freeze
If molding: butter mold generously, pour hot coated corn into mold, press gently to push out bigger holes, cool, and wrap (to eat, heat on low in microwave to pull apart)
For Gift Giving
Pack into generous cellophane gift bags; 1 batch is equivalent to 12 popcorn balls, thus easily gifts 2 generously
I also have a batch preparation sheet written up for when we made 10 with Su this year. Let me know if you would like a copy, and I will send it your way!