Caramel popcorn is amazing. I don't really like the sticky kind, but I love this crispy kind--like Cracker Jacks, only so much better. I got this recipe years ago from a friend, and the times I've made it it has worked out perfectly. I even made it once without a candy thermometer because I lost it in our recent move, and it still worked (I recommend a thermometer, though).
You can make it like this and leave it simple, or you can add nuts while mixing the hot caramel into the popcorn, or drizzle it all with melted chocolate after it's been baked and cooled--or both. If you can think of a mix-in, it will probably work. So delicious.
A great way to get plain popcorn for this recipe is to use the Brown-Bag Microwave Popcorn method. It's easy with almost zero mess, and it's naked and ready for the caramel.
Crispy Caramel Popcorn (from the amazing Stephanie G.)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 quarts plain popped corn
1. Heat your oven to 200 deg. Spray 2 baking sheets with non-stick spray.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, butter, salt, corn syrup, and cream of tartar until melted. Attach a candy thermometer and bring to a low boil, stirring often. Stirring constantly (but not vigorously), bring the temperature up to the hard ball stage (about 5 minutes), then remove from the heat. Immediately stir in the baking soda.
3. Immediately pour the hot caramel over the popcorn (PLEASE, PLEASE be careful here. The melted caramel is like lava and is 250deg. If it gets on you it will stick and burn) and stir it until the popcorn is evenly coated. (I use two silicon spatulas, one in each hand, to get the popcorn coated quickly, otherwise the caramel cools too fast and it has a harder time getting distributed.)
4. Divide the caramel-coated popcorn between the two prepared baking sheets and spread it out in an even layer. Bake for 60 minutes, stirring after each 20 minutes. Transfer to waxed paper to cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Makes about 3 1/2 quarts caramel popcorn.