Spicy Caramel Popcorn


from Ellen's Kitchen, with thanks to Cook's Illustrated

Makes about 3 ½ quarts

Use an instant-read thermometer for measuring the temperature of caramel (we recommend using a constant read clip-on type, so you don't miss the goal temperature). To ensure an accurate reading, swirl the caramel to even out hot spots, then tilt the pot so that the caramel pools 1 to 2 inches deep. Move the thermometer back and forth for about 5 seconds before taking a reading.

  • 2 ½ quarts popped popcorn (recipe follows)
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup water
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup smoked almonds, chopped coarse (or if using raw almonds, toast in pan prior to chopping and increase salt by 1/4 tsp)

  •  spray large bowl and rimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. Place popcorn in prepared bowl. Bring sugar, corn syrup, and water to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is straw colored, 6 to 8 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook, swirling frequently until mixture is dark-amber, 2 to 5 minutes. (Caramel will register 365 to 375 degrees.)
Off heat:

  • add butter, salt, and cayenne; stir until fully combined. Return pot to low heat, stir in baking soda, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is uniform in color. Pour caramel over popcorn and working quickly, stir until well coated. (Use a towel or oven mitt to hold the bowl and avoid touching the hot caramel.) Stir in almonds. Transfer mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread into even layer. Let cool 15 minutes. Break cooled popcorn into pieces of desired size. (Popcorn can be stored in air-tight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.)
Makes about 2 1/2 quarts

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels

  •  oil and 3 kernels in large Dutch over medium heat until kernels pop. Remove pan from heat, add remaining kernels, cover, and let sit for 30 seconds. Return pan to medium heat. Continue to cook with lid slightly ajar until popping slows to 1 to 2 seconds between pops. Transfer popcorn to large bowl.


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