Adapted from the recipe by Emma Christensen, www.thekitchn.com.
As the author wrote about this recipe,
“The best caramel popcorn is a two-part process: making stovetop caramel sauce and then baking the coated popcorn in the oven.”
START TO FINISH: 90 minutes (30 minutes active)
SERVINGS: Makes 10 to 12 cups
½ cup popcorn kernels
1 tablespoon coconut or peanut oil
¾ cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3-quart covered saucepan
Large heatproof mixing bowl
2 baking sheets
Parchment paper or 2 silicone baking mats
1. Arrange two oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven and preheat to 250°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
2. Make the popcorn.
–Warm 3 popcorn kernels and the oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium heat.
–When the kernels pop, add the rest of the kernels to the pan, shake to coat with oil, and cover. Pop the corn, shaking the pan occasionally, until the popping slows.
–Empty popcorn immediately into a large heatproof bowl.
3. Make the caramel sauce.
–Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.
–Mix in the sugar until the sugar is completely moistened. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil.
–Boil for 3-4 minutes while continuously stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. (Boil for a minute less if cooking on an electric stove.) Ideally you want the sugar mixture to reach between 250°F and 300°F.
4. Turn off the heat, add the vanilla, salt and baking soda; stir until combined. The sugar mixture will bubble up. Continue stirring until a thick, glossy sauce forms.
5. Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn while stirring the popcorn. (It helps if you have a partner for this step — one person pouring while the other stirs the popcorn.) Continue stirring the sauce into the popcorn until all kernels are coated.
6. Divide the popcorn between two baking sheets, spreading into an even layer. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes and breaking up any clumps.
7. Let the popcorn cool completely on the baking sheets. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.