Spicy Caramel Popcorn


This morning I made this wonderful Grapefruit Yogurt Loaf Cake, but I decided I would share with you this Spicy Caramel Popcorn recipe instead and save the cake for a later post.  I made this for our small group, because it was quick, easy & I figured people could munch on however much they wanted to fill their hand (or hands) with.

When it comes to popcorn, I feel like I could call my mom the Popcorn Queen.  Growing up we never had microwave popcorn in the house or a popcorn air popper.  I always felt a little deprived not having the microwave hydrogenated oil goodness that most families produced out of their pantry.  And thinking, "c'mon mom, can't we be like normal families and get the popcorn out of a box--we're the weird family!"  But, secretly, I was glad to know my mom didn't have to rely on Orville to get us through a movie night, because she knew how to add just the right salt/butter/popcorn ratio to the pot.  And as we heard what sounded like BB's pellet against the metal, we instinctively pulled out the yellow/orange rubbermaid bowl designated "the popcorn bowl" (or occasionally my handmade ice rink for my Barbie's).

If you're in the mood for sweet & salty, then try this one.  There is a bit of a spicy overtone, but nothing that makes your mouth water.  It's also perfect for packaging up for gifts, but be sure to grab a handful or two for yourself.


Spicy Caramel Popcorn (printable recipe)

This recipe comes from The Craft of Baking, which I checked out from the library.  I've really enjoyed this cookbook as the author encourages you to build from the recipes she gives and making them your own.  After originally posting this recipe, my friend emailed with a question about the high heat to make the caramel and having a problem with it boiling over.  See my notes at the end of the recipe.
Makes about 4 quarts


  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 Tb vegetable oil
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 Tb unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ Tb kosher salt


Lightly coat two large heatproof rubber spatulas and a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 4 minutes.  Transfer the popped popcorn to the prepared bowl, removing any unpopped kernels.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt, and ½ cup water.  Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking soda mixture (the mixture will bubble up).

Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn.  Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.

Pour the popcorn onto a large baking pan and quickly flatten and separate it into small pieces while it is still warm.  Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.  Once it is cool, store it in a well-sealed airtight container.

Caramel popcorn will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

My Notes:

  • When making the caramel, the recipe says to not stir while having it on high heat.  It is important not to stir caramel, in order to allow the sugar to "caramelize."  The sugar is going through stages and each of those stages cooks the sugar into a deeper color and deeper flavor.

  • However, if you do not have a heavy bottom pot, you may encounter burning much too quickly, boiling over, or cooking much too quickly before you hit the 10 minute time given.

  • The 10 minutes is a guideline, so pay more attention to color versus the clock.

  • It's okay to swirl the pan.  This will distribute the color, keep the sugar from burning, and help you see what the true color of the sugar really is.