Get the Balance Right — Homemade Caramel Corn, 4 ways

We’re fresh off a visit to Disney World. One of Emma’s favourite Disney treats, among the many, is caramel corn. In general, it’s off-limits since most varieties are plastered with peanut warnings or contain added nuts. So we’re not talking just any caramel corn here. This is a nut-free, explicitly-stated-on-the-package kind which we only find at one shop over on Main Street.  On past trips, we’ve even returned home with a few bags. This time, however, we didn’t have to!

Maple Caramel Corn - 4 ways

Caramel corn has long been on my list of treats to make. I’ve always hesitated since most recipes feature copious amounts of corn syrup and sugar. Certainly caramel corn is no health food, but somehow, I hoped to change up the standard recipe.

We had a few experiments — reducing the sugar, using brown sugar, using honey as the main sweetener, mixing honey and maple syrup — all unsuccessful. After trying maple syrup with a little brown sugar, we finally got the balance right. Homemade caramel corn in 30 minutes!

We made this recipe even more special with some fun add-ins – white chocolate and dried cranberries, dark chocolate cherry, s’mores or plain. Emma and I loved the s’mores mixture — especially the graham cracker pieces covered in caramel. She also adored the white chocolate cranberry. I’m looking forward to starting up a movie night tradition again when Katie’s old enough to join us — it’ll be an excuse to make this popcorn regularly — and then she’ll share in the popcorn bounty too!

Homemade Caramel Corn – 4 ways

inspired by Squawkfox – How to Microwave Gourmet Popcorn
(makes ~16 cups of popcorn)

  • 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dairy-free margarine (like Earth Balance)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
For White Chocolate Cranberry Caramel Corn:
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or Craisins
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate pieces or Wilton Vanilla-flavoured Candy Melts
For Dark Chocolate Cherry Caramel Corn [Vegan]:
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped coarsely
  • 5-10 squares of dark chocolate (depending on how chocolatey you like yours)
For S’mores Caramel Corn [Dairy-Free]:
  • 2-3 cups mini marshmallows
  • 10 graham crackers, broken into small pieces (but not into crumbs)
  • 5-10 squares of dark chocolate (depending on how chocolatey you like yours)
Make the popcorn:

Place 1/4 cup of the unpopped popcorn kernels into a brown paper lunch bag and fold the top over twice creating about a 1″ fold.  Place the bag into the microwave and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until popping slows down to 1 to 2 pops per second.  Pour the popcorn into a large bowl removing and discarding any unpopped kernels. Repeat with the remaining 1/4 cup popcorn kernels and set all of the popcorn aside.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Make the caramel:

In a large saucepan, combine the maple syrup, brown sugar and water. On medium heat, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup mixture come to a boil and let it boil uncovered and unstirred for 8-10 minutes. Occasionally wash down the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush to keep sugar crystals from forming and hardening.

Remove from heat and add the vanilla and margarine. Stir until the margarine has melted and is well combined. Next, sprinkle the baking soda over top and mix well.

Once the baking soda is completely mixed in, pour the caramel mixture over the popped popcorn and mix with a wooden spoon (not your hands!) to coat the popcorn.

Place the bowl of caramel coated popcorn into the microwave and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl and shake the popcorn side to side to mix things up a bit. Microwave again 2 to 3 times, shaking the mixture and checking to make sure nothing is burning. (Taste it.) Stop the microwaving once the texture is right.

Now’s the time for adding optional add-ins if you’re using them. For the White Chocolate Cranberry or Dark Chocolate Cherry versions, add the dried fruit and stir until well distributed. For the S’mores version, add the graham crackers and marshmallows and stir well. The marshmallows will likely start to melt (and that’s ok!).

Pour the warm popcorn on to a parchment-lined baking sheet and let cool (if you can wait). For the White Chocolate Cranberry, Dark Chocolate Cherry or S’mores versions, here’s where you will add the chocolate to the popcorn. Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it at half power, at 30-second intervals, stirring between each interval until it is melted and smooth. Drizzle over top of the prepared and cooling popcorn. Let the chocolate set (place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes if required). Store in an air-tight container for up to a week. Enjoy!

Tips and Suggestions:

  • When making the popcorn, if the brown lunch bag method isn’t your thing, use your favourite method for making plain popcorn – on the stove top, with a hot air popper or in the microwave in a bowl.
  • When using the brown lunch bag method for popping the popcorn, be sure to pop the popcorn in two batches to ensure you don’t end up with a microwave filled with popcorn should the bag break (trust me when I say this can happen!)
  • When making the caramel, do not leave it unattended. It bubbles and can splatter. Young children should stay away from the stove while you make this.
  • For the S’mores Caramel Corn, you can choose to add the marshmallows and graham crackers after pouring on the caramel mixture and before microwaving the popcorn. It will mean the crackers will get coated with all the caramel and marshmallow deliciousness.

I shared this recipe on TidyMom‘s I’m Lovin’ It Party.


  1. Carol Stebila

    Love your healthy approach to “child friendly” cooking. You always provide excellent (easy to follow) instructions. Emma (and K) are lucky to have such a creative and dedicated Mom.
    Cooking with your Mom is time well spent at any age. 🙂 C

    • Thank you, Carol! I’m a lucky Mom to have these lovely little ladies enjoy food so much — makes it a bit easier for me!

      Hope you get a chance to try the popcorn — it’s not too sweet (well, except the white chocolate one!) so it just might be right up your alley.

      Thanks again!

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