Salty Caramel Corn is something we make all the time: a quick, delicious treat made from ingredients we always have in the pantry. It solves the dilemma of weeknight guests that you forgot to plan dessert for. After mastering this dry-sugar caramel, you're life will be forever changed...it's easier, faster, and tastes a hundred times better than any other caramel corn you've ever had! If you've never made this type of caramel before, don't worry, its not as complicated as it looks. Salty Caramel Corn for a Crowd can be made quickly on high heat (about 4 minutes) for the daring, or slowly on medium-low (about 8 minutes) if you are a first time caramel'er.
- 1 tablespoon oil (I use canola, but any flavorless high-heat oil will do)
- 2/3 cup popcorn kernels
- 1 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Pop the popcorn (microwave, air-popper, etc.). My preferred method is to cook on the stove-top with a heavy bottomed medium saucepan with lid. Heat the pot empty for 1 minute on high heat. Add the oil and popcorn, and shake the pan back and forth to ensure each kernel has a thin coat of oil. Put on the lid. Shake the pan every 20 seconds until the kernels stop popping, about 3 minutes. Dump the popped corn onto a baking sheet.
2. Place a heavy bottomed saucepan (or saucier) on medium heat. If you are feeling daring, go to high heat for a faster cook. Dump in the sugar. Measure out your cream and set to the side (for step 5). Throughout this process you will never stop whisking. Your goal is to evenly melt and brown the sugar without burning it. After the first 2 minutes of cooking the dry sugar, you'll notice the sugar starting to look wet and beginning to clump. About 1 minute more, and you'll see the sugar melting around the edges and turning golden brown (see photo). Keep whisking.
3. You are now in the melting phase. Continue whisking for approximately 1 minute, until your sugar begins to turn uniformly brown and appears to melt into itself (see photo). Things will begin to move more quickly at this point. If you get nervous, just turn down your heat...it is slower, but it gives you more time to react. Keep whisking.
4. You are now in the browning phase. Your sugar will become a smooth liquid and start darkening relatively quickly. Remember that golden brown is delicious...burnt is acrid. If you see smoke at the edges of your sugar, turn down the heat immediately and whisk rapidly. When your sugar is a deep amber color (see photo) it is time to add the cream! Keep whisking.
5. You are now in the emulsification phase. You will be adding the cream very slowly (about 1 tablespoon at a time). If you pour it in all at once, your sugar will seize into a hard ball, which is just plain disheartening and takes a very long time to dissolve back into solution. As you add your first tablespoon of cream, the mixture will start making noise...steaming and boiling vigorously (see photo). You will repeat this step (adding one tablespoon cream at a time and whisking until the bubbling slows). Continue until your cream is almost used up. Keep whisking.
6. Congratulations! You are now in the finishing phase. As you add your last cream, you'll notice the the consistency and color of the caramel changing. It will be getting thicker and creamier. The longer you cook the caramel at this point, the thicker it will get. You want the caramel to be falling off the whisk in fat drops (see photo at right and below). When the caramel reaches this stage, remove the pan from the heat, add salt, and whisk to combine. The caramel can be drizzled over the popcorn, and eaten as soon as its cool enough to touch (we usually last about 30 seconds). This dish is messy, delicious, and will disappear quickly (see photos below)!