Buttery, crispy, crunchy, and delicious, this Caramel Corn Recipe with cream of tartar is a light, old-fashioned popcorn candy treat, just like Grandma used to make.
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I’m taking 2021 to go back in my recipes and remake them. Republishing them with new photos, instructions, tips, and sometimes updates to the recipe itself.
And, can I just say how excited I was to go back to this one. I used to make this old fashioned popcorn treat all the time. It was perfect for parties and family gatherings because everyone loved it!
This caramel corn is easy to make and tastes way better than the one you get at the county fair. I guess this recipe is a good one to make at home now, since so many of the fairs have been canceled. This still gives you a taste of summer fun at home!
I first published this recipe in 2016, but I’ve been making it since 1999. Back in the day, my husband asked me to make him a tasty treat, something fun. So, I made this summertime fair food for him.
Light Caramel Corn
I like this recipe for caramel corn because the caramel isn’t too heavy; it’s a nice light crunchy coating. It’s also really inexpensive to make, and budget friendly; and everyone I’ve ever served it to has been super impressed by it!
Can I make a smaller batch?
Yes, you can make a smaller batch. We usually only make ½ a recipe, as there’s just the 2 of us in the house, and this makes a lot of Caramel Corn!
Of course, you could share it as well! It would make an awesome homemade gift for someone you love as well.
Think Christmas or a lovely hostess gift. It would be a great housewarming gift for a new neighbor.
I mean, who wouldn’t love some of this homemade goodness?
What does cream of tartar do?
That little addition of cream of tartar will prevent crystallization as the caramel cooks. So it makes the caramel easier to make. Did you know that cream of tartar is actually a byproduct of fermenting grapes into wine?
Before you get worried about the corn syrup in this recipe, keep in mind that Corn Syrup is not the same as high fructose corn syrup that everyone hated a few years back. If you’d like to read more, the Kitchn has a nice short article on the subject.
The corn syrup is used in this recipe to soften the texture of the caramel, add volume, and prevent crystallization of the sugar. The recipe will not be as good without it; please don’t leave it out.
Can this be made ahead?
Absolutely! This caramel corn stays fresh for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container on the counter. But, I bet you’ll eat it all before that!
How to pop the popcorn
I prefer an air popper for this recipe. It makes perfect unseasoned popcorn.
But, if you don’t have an air popper, feel free to make your popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stovetop. Use a small amount of oil, and place the unpopped corn in a pot with a lid. Wait for all of the popcorn to pop.
Just don’t use bagged microwave popcorn for this recipe, as it has salt and fats already added, and you want the popcorn to be as plain as possible.
Make sure you get out all of the un-popped kernels; you don’t want to bite down on one of those in the final product.
Oh, and one other note on popcorn. We are an Orville house! Meaning, that I highly recommend using Orville Redenbacher as the brand of popcorn for this, and all popcorn recipes. They aren’t paying me to say this at all.
We have tested a lot of brands of popcorn, and Orville stands out to us as being the biggest and fluffiest popcorn around!
Homemade Cracker Jack Popcorn
Want to make your own homemade version of Cracker Jack? Simply mix 2 cups of salted peanuts to the popcorn before putting it in the oven.
How to make caramel corn
All right, this recipe is actually really easy to make, but I do like making it with two people. One to pour, and one to mix.
There’s an easy to read printable recipe card below with detailed instructions and amounts.
First, you’ll want to pop that popcorn. And, we have that unpopped measurement so that you don’t have to measure all 24 cups (or 6 quarts) or popped corn (ain’t nobody got time for that!). Split the popped corn into two large bowls, and set aside.
Measure out the baking soda in a small dish and set it aside so it’s ready to add to the caramel as soon as the caramel is ready.
Make the caramel
Then, make the caramel in a pan on the stove. Melt everything together, and boil for 5 minutes, or until the candy reaches the hard ball stage on a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat, then add the baking soda and watch it foam up!
That foaming up is a chemical reaction with the acid in the brown sugar and corn syrup. The reaction creates carbon dioxide air bubbles that will aerate the caramel and make it lighter and smoother and therefore easier to coat the popcorn. It also means that the final candy coating will be slightly chewy, easier to eat, and super buttery.
Mix it all up & bake
Split the caramel over the two bowls of popcorn, and mix in. I like to use a silicone spatula for mixing, you won’t get too much of the caramel sticking to the spoon. But, you can also spray your mixing spoon with nonstick spray before using it to ensure that there are no sticking issues.
Spread the candy-coated popcorn on two large parchment paper lined baking sheets, and bake at a low temperature to get the caramel to dry and crisp over the popcorn.
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Homemade Caramel Corn Recipe
- 6 quarts unseasoned popped popcorn from 1 cup unpopped kernels
- 2 cups light brown sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 200° F. Divide the popped popcorn between 2 large bowls, removing any unpopped kernels. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.
- In a large deep saucepan, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and cream of tartar. Insert a candy thermometer. Bring to a boil, and cook the mixture over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer registers 260° F (hard ball stage). Remove from heat, and quickly stir in the baking soda. The mixture will foam up quite a bit.
- Pour the syrup mixture over the popcorn, half into each bowl. Work quickly to coat all the popcorn with the caramel. Spread popcorn evenly on the baking sheets, and bake for 1 hour, stirring and rotating the trays 3 times. Remove from the oven and spread popcorn on parchment paper to cool, breaking up the larger pieces if necessary.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations, and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary based on brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes, and more.