Yes, I said Favorite Best, but if you'd like other adjectives to go by I can quote a couple of women at last week's Bunco night: "Addicting." "Evil." "Wow-this-is-good." And of course, "Mmmmm! Take it away already!"
Here's what's in it:
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup popcorn kernels, popped to fill one roaster pan
I am going to tell you the approximate times that work in my microwave and oven. Because appliances vary widely, you must use your own good judgement when cooking your ingredients.
First, pop your popcorn. Use your favorite method. I have a Presto Power Pop which is for the microwave (doesn't work in every microwave, so do some research if you want to purchase one). When I make it without oil it basically turns out the same as air-popped, but if you want to make yours in a pot on the stove w/ oil, go for it. My popper does 1/3 cup of kernels at a time, so I do three batches and put them in the roaster as I go.
Note: Be meticulous about fishing out any unpopped kernels. No one wants to be responsible for a broken tooth.
Now it's time to make the caramel.
Add the brown sugar, corn syrup and butter to a microwave safe bowl. Best is a glass bowl that holds at least one quart. My favorite is the small Pyrex bowl from a vintage Hamilton Beach mixer set which holds 4 cups of liquid. Your ingredients are not going to fill your bowl full, but you need a bowl that has extra space because when your caramel mixture boils it needs room to expand. If you have a four cup Pyrex measuring cup that would be ideal. The handle will come in handy (har-har) when it's full of bubbling goodness.
Microwave your butter-sugar-syrup for one minute. Stir to help the butter melt.
Now is the trickiest part, microwave for about 2 min 30 sec. You need to watch your mixture as it cooks because what you're aiming for here is a 2 minute boil, so pay attention.
After it has boiled, it will darken some and the butter will be incorporated and no longer floating around the edges of the bowl. Now, while it is piping hot, sprinkle in the baking soda and stir. Don't be shy about the stirring - get it good and mixed in. (No one wants a salty lump of soda in their caramel corn.)
The soda does something magical. The caramel will puff up and become very light and airy. (The same thing happens when you make peanut brittle, if you've ever tried that.)
Carefully pour your hot, fluffy caramel syrup over your roaster full of popcorn. If you can manage holding the very warm bowl with one hand, use a heat-resistant rubber spatula to get all of that goo out of the bowl. Or get someone to help you. I just use a hot pad to hold the edge of the bowl. Sometimes it gets syrup on it, but it's just sugar and washes out fine. The syrup doesn't stick to the bowl as much as you might think because of the lovely butter that's in there, but it does need a little encouragement with a spatula.
Now, use a large spoon to stir/fold to combine the caramel and the popcorn. Try to be gentle so you don't break the pieces. Also: Don't panic. It will look for a few moments like you're going to have a huge lump of super caramel-y corn with lots of plain, naked popcorn around the sides. But as long as everything is still nice and hot, if you stir carefully you will see that the caramel is becoming nicely distributed.
After you think it looks like almost every piece of popcorn has as least met the idea of some caramel, bake the entire batch at 275℉ for about 45 minutes, stopping to stir every 15 minutes.
I actually set my oven to 285℉ because mine runs cool. And the caramel corn is probably done after 30 min., but I like mine to get a bit more brown, and for it to have that toasty smell. How do you know if yours is done? Take a few pieces out, let them cool, and taste them to see if they have the proper crunch. You don't want the caramel to be sticky because —well, let's face it, caramel corn that sticks your teeth together as you chew is just plain annoying.
Now, other recipes add things like salt or vanilla or nuts. And while those things may be lovely, I don't think this recipe needs them. The corn syrup I use has salt and vanilla in it already, and the baking soda is also salty. If you decide to substitute salted butter or margarine, well — there you go with the salt all over the place. Other recipes also use less popcorn. I find them way too sugary, but maybe that's just me. This recipe has enough syrup that every piece of popcorn gets a kiss of it, and yet you can still taste that it's popcorn underneath. It's your call when you're the cook.
Enjoy! And don't forget, when my friend said "Addicting!" she meant it. Seriously, if this turns out to be your thing you might need an intervention. Have a friend you can count on on speed dial.
So they can rush over and help you eat it, of course.