Caramel corn, for gift-giving or holiday get-togethers

Caramel Corn

Caramel corn, December 2012

It’s December, time to plan holiday snacks and food gifts. For the gifts, my usuals have been caramels and biscotti because they keep a long time and hold up well when sent through the mail. This year I decided to make caramel corn, which is easy and delicious and fits the food gift criteria.

The caramel corn recipe that came to mind was one that a former co-worker, Mary, used to make for everyone in the office at Christmastime. I liked it so much that years ago I made sure to file the little slip of paper that had the holly graphic and the heading “Mary’s Oven Caramel Corn” where I could find it. When I dug it out and did some checking around, to my surprise I found just about the same recipe by many, including butter-loving television cooking show host Paula Deen. The version here, according to Mary’s recipe, has optional peanuts or mixed nuts, but you can leave them out if you wish.

This treat, like many during the holiday season, is high in sugar and fat, so I recommend being aware of total calorie intake and enjoying it in moderation. (Which I need to keep reminding myself!)  To make it just a little healthier, use organic butter and sugar. If you use organic brown sugar, take care to use the lowest heat necessary to boil the caramel mixture, because it tends to burn easily. Note also that the Karo type of corn syrup is not the same as the much sweeter and more highly processed high-fructose corn syrup used in packaged foods and suspected by some to cause health problems.

To make this caramel corn dairy-free, use margarine in the same way you would butter. My favorite butter substitute, Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, requires a different technique, which is included in the Notes following the recipe.

The ingredients in this recipe are generally gluten-free. However, if you want to make absolutely sure, check labels—many products now indicate gluten-free. Bob’s Red Mill baking soda in particular is labeled as gluten-free.

Nutty (or Not) Caramel Corn
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
  • 8 cups popped corn (about 1/2 cup unpopped; air popped is fine)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, margarine, or Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Stick (see NOTES)
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup roasted and lightly salted peanuts or mixed nuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 200°F.
  2. Pop corn in a regular popcorn popper or air popper. Scoop popcorn out of popper or bowl and place in a large roasting pan (such as a turkey roaster), sifting out any unpopped kernels.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, butter or butter substitute, corn syrup, and salt. If using butter or margarine, bring to a boil and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. If using Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, see NOTE. Remove pan from heat and add baking soda. Stir thoroughly until frothy. If using peanuts, stir them into the hot caramel mixture.
  4. Working quickly while mixture is still warm, scrape out of pan and onto popcorn. Stir to coat. To avoid breaking kernels when stirring, use a wooden spoon, or stir very gently with a spatula or metal spoon.
  5. Place in oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest 5 minutes, then stir once more to break up any large clumps of popcorn. When finished with the pans and utensils, soak in warm water for easier cleaning.
  6. Store cooled caramel corn in sealed bags or airtight containers. Keeps 2 weeks or longer.
Serving size: 1 cup. Calories: 182; Fat: 11g; Saturated fat: 4g; Carbohydrates: 20g; Sugar: 10g; Sodium: 158mg; Fiber: 2g; Protein: 4g; Cholesterol: 15mg.
If using Earth Balance Vegan Buttery sticks, stir the caramel mixture constantly, bring just to a boil, and take it off heat immediately when it begins to boil. Boiling more than a second or two damages the flavors, so watch it very carefully. Also, note that the baking soda may not make the mixture frothy when you stir it in, and the coating might be slightly grainy, but it will still be good.


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