Plain popcorn is coated in a homemade caramel mixture, then baked until crunchy. Homemade caramel popcorn can be prepped weeks in advance and is great for gifting! 

A metal tart pan piled high with homemade caramel corn. A smaller dish of popcorn rests in the background.

Buttery, salty, and sweet, this homemade caramel corn is a new favorite snack at my house! Plain popcorn is coated in a rich caramel sauce, then baked low and slow until crisp. 

Although making caramel popcorn takes more time and effort than opening a bag of the pre-made stuff, you’ll be glad you made it from scratch after you try a handful. The homemade caramel sauce is much richer than anything you’ll buy in a bag, plus the entire recipe is cheaper than if you’d bought the caramel corn pre-made. 

Make a batch of caramel corn now and enjoy it for weeks to come! A single batch makes eight cups of popcorn, and it stays fresh up to two weeks at room temperature. 

Perfect for at-home movie nights and holiday gifting, this caramel corn is going to be your new favorite snack!  

An overhead view of the ingredients needed to make the best homemade caramel popcorn.

Ingredients for This Recipe 

Homemade caramel popcorn calls for just seven basic ingredients: popcorn, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, vanilla extract, and baking soda. 

There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing caramel corn: 

  • Popcorn: Make sure to use plain popcorn for this recipe. You can either pop your own or buy a bag of plain popcorn. 
  • Baking soda: This may seem like a strange ingredient for caramel corn, but it’s necessary for this recipe! The baking soda reacts with the brown sugar and foams up. This gives the caramel a softer texture so that it doesn’t break your teeth when you bite down into it.
  • Corn syrup: Use light corn syrup to make the caramel sauce. The corn syrup prevents the caramel sauce from crystallizing and also adds sweetness. 

How to Make Popcorn for Caramel Corn

Making plain popcorn is a simple process that can be done in the microwave. Here’s how I like to make popcorn for caramel corn: 

  1. Add 2 tablespoons of popcorn kernels to a brown paper bag and fold the top of the bag over to seal it.
  2. Microwave on high for 1 ½ minutes to 2 ½ minutes (the amount of time will depend on your microwave).
  3. Once the popping slows to about 2 seconds between pops, the popcorn is done.

I usually repeat this process twice to get the 8 to 9 cups of popcorn you’ll need for this recipe. 

How to Make Caramel Corn

Although this recipe requires a little more elbow grease than your typical snack, it’s a very easy process that’s tough to mess up. After popping the popcorn, you can make the caramel coating.

  • Preheat the oven: Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 250ºF. 
  • Make the caramel sauce: Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Make sure to stir the mixture often, so that it doesn’t burn. 
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients: Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and baking soda. This mixture will foam up, this is normal so don’t worry!

Sticky caramel popcorn on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

  • Combine the caramel sauce and popcorn: In a large bowl, carefully mix together the plain popcorn and the caramel sauce. 
  • Bake the caramel corn: Transfer the coated popcorn to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes. The popcorn needs to be stirred every 15 minutes to ensure it cooks evenly. 
  • Cool completely: Let the caramel popcorn cool for at least 1 hour on the baking sheet before breaking apart and eating. 

An overhead view of baked caramel corn in a metal tart pan.

Can The Corn Syrup Be Substituted? 

Yes, maple syrup may be substituted for the corn syrup. 

Can Nuts Be Added? 

Of course! If you like the combination of caramel corn and nuts, you’re welcome to add up to 1 cup of roasted salted nuts to the popcorn.

Does Caramel Corn Have to Be Baked? 

Yes, this recipe has been created with the intention of baking the caramel popcorn. If you don’t bake the popcorn after it’s been coated in the caramel mixture, it will become soggy and won’t keep for very long. 

Baking the popcorn hardens the caramel and keeps it fresher for longer. 

A close up view of a small bowl of homemade caramel corn. A larger bowl of popcorn rests in the background.

Storage Instructions 

Once the popcorn has cooled completely, store it in an airtight container. It’ll last up to two weeks at room temperature. 

If you plan on gifting the caramel corn, glass jars would be best for preserving its freshness. 

A mound of homemade caramel popcorn next to a small dish of it.

Baking Tips

  • You must use plain popcorn for this recipe (i.e. no salt, butter, or other flavorings on it). You can buy plain popcorn at the grocery store or pop it yourself in under five minutes. 
  • Make sure to stir the caramel corn every 15 minutes. This will ensure that it bakes evenly and doesn’t burn.
  • Once you remove the caramel corn from the oven, let it cool completely at room temperature. It will be soft when you first remove it from the oven, but it will continue to firm up as it cools.

More Caramel Recipes to Make! 

Recipe Video

A small wooden bowl filled with caramel corn.

Homemade Caramel Popcorn

5 from 1 rating
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins
Cooling Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 2 hrs 15 mins
Plain popcorn is coated in a homemade caramel mixture, then baked until crunchy. Homemade caramel popcorn can be prepped weeks in advance and is great for gifting! 

Ingredients

Servings: 8 cups
  • 8 to 9 cups plain popcorn (45 grams)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick; 115 grams)
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar (200 grams)
  • cup light corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C). Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Place the popcorn in a large bowl and set aside.
  • Add the butter to a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, salt and mix until well combined. Bring to a boil, stirring often so that it doesn’t burn. Turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes, continuing to stir often.
  • Remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla extract and baking soda until fully combined. The mixture will bubble and foam up, this is normal!
  • Drizzle the caramel mixture over the popcorn and carefully mix with a large spoon.
  • Transfer the popcorn to the prepared baking sheet and spread it around into one even layer.
  • Bake for 45 minutes, stirring the caramel corn every 15 minutes.
  • Remove the baking sheet from the oven and give the popcorn one last mix. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet, about 1 hour, then break into pieces.

Notes

Storage Instructions: Caramel popcorn can be stored in a large airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
To make your own popcorn: Add 2 tablespoons of popcorn kernels to a brown paper bag and fold the top of the bag over to seal it. Microwave on high for 1 ½ minutes to 2 ½ minutes (the amount of time will depend on your microwave). Once the popping slows to about 2 seconds between pops, the popcorn is done. You will likely need to repeat this process one more time to get 8 to 9 cups of popcorn.
Cuisine: American
Course: Snack
Author: Danielle
Did you make this recipe?Mention @livewellbakeoften on Instagram or tag #livewellbakeoften.