Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cooking with Sara: Gooey Caramel Corn

The other night I made the mistake of being all braggy and gloaty on Facebook and posted that I was eating warm gooey caramel corn on the couch.  And then I felt bad from the comments my girls made and decided to go ahead and post the how-to.  Just like the brownies, this recipe is easy, really quick, and uses ingredients that aren't too crazy.  There just isn't a reason not to whip it up whenever it's chilly outside and you feel like parking yourself on the couch all night.  It's gooey and sticky and makes strings like mozzarella on pizza.  I dare you to make it and not devour the entire bowl before it even cools.

Now, up until this morning, I'd only ever made non-microwave popcorn using an old school air popper.  I got mine at a thrift store for $3, but I hesitated sharing this how-to because hello - who but me owns an air popper?  (Or a cotton candy maker, for that matter, but I digress.)  But my Facebook girls reassured me that it's easypeasylemonsqueezie to make stovetop popcorn, so I decided to give it a whirl.  Hurrah for learning something new!  I'm pretty sure that my air popper is now destined for the giant Goodwill pile growing in my garage.

Gooey Caramel Corn
1/3 c. popcorn kernels*
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
12 large marshmallows
approx. 2 Tbsp. oil (peanut is best, canola is fine)

Heat the oil in a tall pot (a heavy bottom helps), over medium high for about a minute.  Pour the popcorn kernels in and cover with a lid.  Life the pot off the burner, and give it a good swirl to coat the kernels with oil.  Place back on burner, and tilt the lid just enough to allow steam to vent.  Kernels should begin to pop after about a minute.  Swirl the pot once more and then allow the kernels to finish popping.  Process should take about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat when approx. 2 seconds elapse between pops.  Pour into a large heat-safe bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium-low heat.  Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved.  Add in the marshmallows and stir (a silicone spatula scraper works best) until melted and smooth.  Be careful to not let the mixture come to a boil.  Working quickly, pour the hot caramel mixture over the popcorn and fold it in until all the popcorn is coated.  I'd tell you to let it cool before eating, but I'd be a total hypocrite.  I'd also tell you that leaving it out on the counter overnight in an uncovered bowl won't taste any good the next morning, but I'd be a total liar.

* Note:  If you can't find popcorn kernels in your regular grocery store, check one that has a large bulk section.

The ingredient lineup:

Crucial: Tall pot with a lid.

This.  Is too much oil.  I didn't bother measuring for my first batch, and it turned out a little oily.

This.  Is the right amount.  You totally can't see anything, I know.  You basically just need enough oil to lightly coat the kernels.  I threw in 2 tablespoons of oil for our 1/3 cup popcorn, and it was fine.  I could've even used a smidge less.

It doesn't look like much, but it totally makes real live popcorn.  Who knew!

Tilt the lid just a smidge so that steam can vent.  But be careful when it starts popping, because hot oil splatters are Danger.


Butter in the pot, all melty-like.

Once the brown sugar is mixed in, drop in your marshmallows.

The marshmallows will puff up some while they heat.  Just stir occasionally and they'll melt down.  I suppose you could opt do the caramel sauce in the microwave, the same way you might for Rice Krispy Treats.  But with all the opening the microwave, taking out the bowl, stirring, putting it back in the microwave, and shutting the door, it just seems sooo much easier to put it on the stove with a heat-safe spatula.

All melted.  Avoid the boiling bubbles.  If you get the mixture too hot (see: soft crack or even hard crack stage), the finished caramel corn will be more crunchy and less chewy.  And we demand chewy.

Action Shot No. 1.  I'll have you know that because my free intern (read: Bo) was gone, I was trying to pour molten hot caramel sauce with my left hand while photo-ing with my right.

Action Shot No. 2.  Blurry because. Stirring. With LEFT hand.  And photo-ing with the RIGHT.  But it does make me look all cool and actiony, so we'll take it.

Mmmmm.  Remember those gooey strings I mentioned earlier?  Why!  They there be!

Double Mmmmm...

You really probably need to click-zoom for a better look.  Go on!


  1. Awww, Brandy, you make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside :)

  2. Oh! I need to do that now! :)

  3. Your recipes are THE BEST! And I absolutely give them out to many other people. My only request is a special recipe section on your blog so I can find them all at once. :)

  4. I got this recipe a few years ago from Sara and I make it ALL THE TIME. But I felt bad for eating so much butter every time I made it, so I changed the recipe a little. While the popcorn is popping, I melt butter and brown sugar together in a different pan. I would guess it is about a 1/3 cup of brown sugar and the same amount of butter or less. (now I use Smart Balance butter) I do not measure any more; I just put enough butter in the pan to melt the brown sugar. When those have mixed I add the marshmallows. Every time I make it turns out yummy but different and the times I add lots of butter it turns out really good. But when you make this 2 or 3 times a month a stick of butter means I have to work out even more. I do measure my popcorn and I make 1/3 cup popcorn. Hope this helps.

  5. Sara I need a recipe with small marshmallows i'm going to eyeball it today... but how many little marshmallows???

    1. Brandy - I just weighed 12 large marshmallows with my kitchen scale, and it's 3.1 oz (87g). So if your bag of minis is 10 oz, that's about 1/3 the bag. I don't have any minis to weigh and count out for the exact number, but it's not crucial to be exact. I like to throw in a couple extra for extra goo anyway.