Even if you’ve never made caramel before, with this step-by-step recipe from Chef Michael Smith, you too can make this classic recipe for the trick or treaters in your house.
I’ve included the instructions for making the popcorn a la Chef Smith, which also happens to be the way I make it at home (using olive oil) but if you have your own method, go with it. I wouldn’t recommend using store-bought popcorn though. As much as a bit of salt is a delicious counterpoint to the caramel sweetness, the extraordinarily high amount in factory made popcorn will just not do.
Please exercise extreme care and caution while making the caramel. If it gets on your skin, it will stick. It will seriously burn. Now that I’ve said that, the other very important thing to keep in mind is to not leave the stove, when making the caramel. While it may seem to take a long time to reach the ‘golden colour’ stage, it can burn in mere seconds. Don’t walk away from it!
Do move quickly once you pour the caramel mix over the popcorn, as it will start to harden almost immediately. If you’d rather not do the step of forming the popcorn into balls, simply spread it out on the parchment lined baking sheet, and then sprinkle the salt on top. Either way, it’s deliciously addictive!
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) of popcorn kernels
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) of vegetable oil (or olive oil if you prefer)
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) of water
- 1 cup (250 mL) of sugar
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) of butter
- 1 TBSP (15 mL) of pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp (5 mL) of baking soda
- 1 TBSP (15 mL) or so of fine French-style sea salt
- 1 pair of disposable sanitary kitchen gloves in your size
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
- Carefully sprinkle in the popcorn in an even layer 1 kernel deep, and continue heating as the popcorn begin to sizzle.
- When the first few kernels pop, loosely cover the pot with the lid, leaving a vent wide enough for the steam to escape but not so wide that the violently popping corn escapes.
- The popping will intensify, peak, then noticeably begin to diminish; when it does, turn off the heat and wait until the popping stops before removing the lid.
- Toss the popcorn into your largest bowl, discarding any unpopped kernels.
- Start heating the water into a medium saucepan set over medium heat.
- Pour the sugar in a small, tight pile in the centre of the water, avoiding the sides. Don’t stir!
- As they heat the water and sugar will quickly dissolve together and form simple syrup. (Stirring actually encourages granular crystallization)
- As the heat increases the syrup will begin simmering and steaming, and the water will gradually evaporate.
- Once the water’s gone, the steam will die down, but the temperature will begin to rise past the boiling point of the water leaving behind a pure melted sugar syrup.
- As the heat rises farther the sugar will eventually start to turn golden.
- Put on a pair of disposable sanitary kitchen gloves.
- When you see the first hint of golden brown, begin gently swirling the pan, helping it colour evenly.
- When the sugar is caramelized deep golden brown, as brown as you dare, add the butter and carefully whisk it in until the sauce is smooth; the butter will quickly drop the sauce’s temperature and prevent it from over-browning.
- Whisk in the vanilla and baking soda (it will foam a bit.) then working quickly, pour and toss it over the popcorn to mix well with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula.
- While the works is still warm, scoop it out by handfuls and roll into balls. Lay the balls out on the sheet pan and sprinkle with the sea salt.
- Serve and share.
- Makes 12 - 15 balls.