From the Archives: Spiced Caramel Corn

From the Archives: Spiced Caramel Corn Recipe

I am in Mexico (Yucatan) until the end of the week, then back to regular posts. Between now and then I will run a couple favorite past entries from the archives.

This recipe became a favorite because not only is it unique and delicious - it also helped me answer all those questions that come up when you go to pop a batch of popcorn over a stove - high heat or low? A drop of oil or a glug? Enjoy this recipe and then start dreaming up your own special seasonings.

(Originally posted January 5, 2004)

Give me a finicky souffle recipe over making popcorn any day.

Making popcorn gives me a bigger headache in the kitchen than anything else I attempt. Something so simple, right? Not really. If I'm not busy burning the kernels, then I am standing around staring, waiting for them to pop (often times indefinitely).

This recipe caught my attention because for a long time I have been thinking about how great it would be to be able to request a few extra ingredients or flavors in the kettle corn we always pick up when we go to the farmers market -- and while this isn't exactly kettle corn, it is close.

The first step in this recipe was to make a nice fresh fluffy batch of perfect popcorn. Fortunately, I had much better luck this time around. Part of my problem in the past has been that I buy my popcorn kernels from those organic bins, which means it doesn't come with popping instructions. I never know how much or how little oil to use, the strength of the burner, or whether to shake the kernels or just let them sit in the bottom of the pan.

In the past I have burned popcorn over med-low heat. My instinct was to try again using even less heat, but not so! I stumbled onto this gem of a recipe and according to Nancy Silverton, only a drop of oil, and some high heat were between me and a batch of great popcorn. And bless her, she was right. If you follow her instructions, you too can have flawless popcorn.

I toasted up some macadamia nuts, no problem (except they also burn in a flash if you aren't careful). Then I was on to conquering the spicy caramel coating. A ton of sugar and a heavy dose of spiciness makes the magic happen - cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamon all represent. Making the coating was uneventful if not perilous. Cooking with sugar-sweet molten lava can be a bit unnerving.

I stirred in the popcorn, let it firm up on a baking sheet, and had a huge batch of very spicy caramel corn which was a big hit. Twenty-four hours later there is none left.

Couple notes about this recipe. Don't try to double it. I thought it might not actually make enough (it only calls for 1/3 cup popcorn kernels), but it makes a TON if your popcorn pops up nicely. Flavor wise, I love the spiciness, but I ground up an entire nutmeg for it, and I think that may have been a bit much. I think I eclipsed the other wonderful flavors, next time I'll go a bit lighter.

Tasty. Addictive. A fresh twist on an old favorite.

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Spiced Caramel Corn

4 ounces whole macadamia nuts (about 1 cup), optional
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup unpopped popcorn
1/4 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread nuts on a small rimmed baking sheet, and bake until fragrant and beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and let stand until cool. Coarsely chop; set aside.

2. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat (a French nonstick baking mat); set aside. In a medium stockpot, heat oil over high heat. Add popcorn, and cover. Once the corn begins to pop, shake the pan constantly. When the corn has finished popping, remove from the heat, uncover; set aside.

3. In a large deep pot, at least 12 inches wide, stir together water, sugar, and corn syrup. Add vanilla pod and seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat without stirring. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush down the sides of the pan to remove any undissolved sugar granules. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, tilting and swirling the pan, until the mixture just begins to smoke and is a deep caramel color, 4 to 5 minutes more.

4. Stir in the popcorn and nuts. Cook, stirring, while moving the pot on and off the heat to prevent the caramel from burning, until the popcorn is completely coated and the mixture is deep mahogany in color. Pour onto prepared baking sheet, and spread in an even layer. Let cool. Remove and discard vanilla bean. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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After reading this, I had been dying to try this for almost weeks. Unfortunately, living in Japan, popcorn in a jar isn’t common and I had to special order the kernels. Since I grew up having my own electric popper, my lack of experience is showing through and I keep burning some of the kernels. I will keep trying, however, and hope to have some perfect caramel corn, just as I used to make it, but with an adult twist. (I made my first batch of caramel corn when I was 12 from a Winnie the Pooh cookbook. )
I would also like to comment that you seem to own most of the same cookbooks as I do. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and miss the produce so badly. It is nice to read your blog and be reminded of home. Sometimes I get very jealous, however. (I would do anything for cheap artichokes right now. They are about $5 a piece in Japan.)


My boyfriend doesn’t like popcorn, which makes me so sad! What’s a movie without sharing a big bucket of the buttery stuff? So I tried this recipe last night and he LOVED it. Thank you SO much, I am super excited to try some variations too.


This looks delicious. Can someone take the easy way out and stick generic popcorn in the microwave and then add the sauce? I have to gather more ingredients, but I will definitely try this.


Hi Heidi, first of all, I love your blog! Especially your lovely photography but also the recipes you post.
Second, a friend gave me some hints for easy popcorn making. A few that you already mentioned but also: to heat the oil before you add the kernels.
So how do you know when the oil has reached the right temperature? Well, just place 3 kernels (one in each corner) in the oil covered bottom of the pot. Heat it up and listen, when all kernels have poped you pour in the rest of the kernels, put the lid back on and continue shaking the pan as usual.
Doing it this way you will be less likely to burn them.


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