This is a recipe that came from my childhood. A recipe taken directly from my mama, who made some killer candy in her day! A recipe that before now, I only shared with a handful of people, because.….well, because I liked being known as the one with the best caramel popcorn around, and if you go around giving your fabulous recipe to every Heather, Nicole, and Ashley you meet, then how are you supposed to retain the title?
But I have repented of my sin, and, to compensate for my selfishness of yore, now do share this recipe with all the Heather/Nicole/Ashley’s of the world!
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter ( just use regular, salted butter for this recipe–’cause that’s what mom did!)
1 pound of brown sugar (this works out to be about 2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar)
1 cup corn syrup
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
pinch of kosher salt
fleur de sel (I use Maldon) to use as a garnish
20–24 cups air-popped popcorn (this amount will depend on how caramel coated you like your popcorn–less popcorn, more caramel-y!)
Prepare two sheet pans with either silpat liners, or butter spread onto surface. Set aside.
Pop your popcorn.
**One thing I ALWAYSDO when I use popcorn: I pop each batch into a large bowl. I then shake and tap the bowl until all the hard, unpopped kernals settle to the bottom. Then I carefully lift only the good popcorn into another, larger bowl, discarding what remains. I even leave what looks like good popcorn just to be safe because if it has settled to the bottom it likely has a hard, half-popped kernal that might end up cracking a tooth or dental fillings. This caramel popcorn is undeniably good, but I’m not sure it’s worth hundreds of dollars of dental work. Then again, maybe.….**
In a heavy, 6 quart pan, place the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. With the heat on medium-high, bring these ingredients to a boil. While stirring, slowly add the sweetened condensed milk. Insert your candy thermometer and let cook, softly boiling, almost constantly stirring, until mixture reaches soft ball stage, 235–240 degrees F. on your thermometer at sea level. If you do not live at or near sea level, calibrate your thermometer ahead of time.
Have your popcorn ready in a LARGE metal bowl. My big, stainless steel bowl accommodates 10 quarts of liquid, and will hold 24 cups of popcorn with room enough to mix without overflowing while I stir. Anything smaller and you will just have to stir very carefully.
About 2 degrees before your caramel reaches the correct temperature, add a healthy pinch of kosher salt. Or, if you are going to garnish with fleur de sel, skip this step.
When the caramel reaches the correct temperature, Carefully pour it over the popped popcorn. Stir with a large silicone spatula, lifting and folding until caramel had covered popcorn sufficiently.
Divide popcorn onto the two prepared sheet pans and spread out the popcorn. It’s easier to eat if you let it set while spread out than if you just put it into a bowl. It divides up prettier as well, if you plan on packaging some up to give away.
Let set an hour or so before packaging.
Eating should happen sooner because it’s SOYUMMYWARM!!!