Looking for an extra special, but super easy appetizer for your next gathering? Spicy Caramel Popcorn to the rescue! It’s like regular caramel corn, but with a hint of spice from cayenne pepper. The balance of sweet and spicy is seriously good. Fair warning: this spicy popcorn is addicting!
I’m always on the lookout for a super simple appetizer and this spicy caramel popcorn is awesome. This is an amazing spicy popcorn recipe from the New York Times and I only altered it in a couple of tiny ways.
- I used air-popped popcorn instead of popping the corn on the stove in oil. While I LOVE a good stove-popped popcorn, I didn’t want this to be too heavy or oily since I was already adding caramel sauce to it. I think air-popping the corn lightens up the dish a bit. Also, easier cleanup, as stove-popped corn tends to be a bit messy if you’re not careful.
- I increased the amount of popcorn slightly so that the popped kernels wouldn’t be too drenched in caramel sauce. While true caramel corn as a sweet dessert is amazing, I wanted this to be a much lighter version with just a touch of sweet and spicy in each bite.
Why I LOVE This Recipe
- Making homemade caramel popcorn is super easy. It really only takes about 15 minutes, from start to finish.
- It’s such a unique flavor combination - the sweetness from the caramel and the spiciness from the cayenne create such a nice balance and complement each other perfectly.
- This spicy caramel popcorn recipe uses air-popped popcorn which makes this recipe slightly healthier than if you popped the corn in oil.
- People LOVE this stuff. Seriously, it’s sweet, slightly spicy, super delicious and it will disappear quickly.
How To Make The Spicy Caramel Sauce For The Popcorn
Ok, so we’ve established that this spicy caramel popcorn is good. Like, really good. And, I’ve mentioned that this is easy to make. But at this point, you may be asking yourself, “What about making the caramel sauce - isn’t that a bit intimidating?
It might seem that way, but really, making this spicy caramel sauce is pretty simple. Once you’ve done it, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.
First things first, get your tools prepared. Caramel sauce gets sticky and dries quickly, so you’ll want to coat a couple of spatulas and a large bowl with some non-stick cooking spray. Add your popped corn to the bowl, then set your tools aside until you’re finished making the sauce.
You’ll also want to get a couple of large baking sheets out and ready. These will serve as your “cooling racks” for your coated popcorn.
Back to making the sauce. Caramel sauce is really just a slow-cooking mixture of sugar, butter, salt, and water. Cook this over high heat until the mixture starts to turn a light golden caramel color. If you don’t feel up to judging the color, you can also use a candy thermometer and take it off the heat once it reaches about 280 degrees. No stirring is required for this recipe! Just watch it carefully at the end to ensure that the caramel sauce doesn’t start to burn.
Add Some Spice!
Once your caramel sauce is ready, remove it from the heat and add in the baking soda and cayenne pepper. The baking soda reacts with the sauce and causes it to bubble up slightly, which makes it a bit lighter and easier to coat the popcorn. (Thanks science!) The cayenne pepper obviously adds the heat so experiment with the quantity of this a bit and add more or less depending on your taste for spice (and your audience). In fact, if you wanted to make this straight-up caramel popcorn without the spice, just omit the cayenne altogether.
Mixing The Caramel Sauce With The Popcorn
Your caramel sauce will be sticky and will start cooling off quickly, so you’ll want to work fast once it’s ready to go. Pour the sauce over the popped corn in your bowl and, using the prepared spatulas, mix it thoroughly, coating the kernels as best as you can.
Once you’ve mixed everything well, spread the popcorn out onto the baking sheets and quickly separate the stuck clusters of popcorn. (You’ll want to do this immediately, while the mixture is still warm.) Allow the popcorn to cool completely on the baking trays.
How To Store It
This spicy caramel corn truly will not keep for long, but you can store it in an airtight container and it should stay fresh and crisp for about 2 weeks.
When To Serve It
This is a great dish for a casual get-together - think Superbowl party, backyard barbecue, movie night, or neighborhood potluck. It’s also fabulous served on a party bus on the way home from Red Rocks after seeing a Led Zepplin cover band. Just sayin.
I hope you give this Spicy Caramel Popcorn a try. If you do, leave a comment below or share a pic on Instagram @frontrangefed!
More Delicious Snacks!
- Popcorn for dinner
- Apple Chips With Maple Tahini Dip
- Chunky Guacamole
- Homemade Tortilla Chips
- Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels
Spicy Caramel Popcorn
- 20 cup air-popped popcorn (about ¾ cup unpopped popcorn)
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup water
- 1 ½ tablespoon salt
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Whisk the baking soda and cayenne pepper in a bowl. Set aside.
- Coat two rubber spatulas and a large bowl with cooking spray. Add your popped corn to the bowl and set aside.
- Set out two large baking sheets. You’ll use these after you’ve mixed the caramel sauce and popcorn together.
- Combine the sugar, butter, salt, and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light caramel color, or until the sauce reads 280 on a candy thermometer. (This should take around 12 minutes.)
- Remove from heat, add the cayenne/baking soda mixture, and stir well. The mixture should start to bubble up.
- Quickly pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn. Quickly mix the popcorn and spicy caramel mixture together with the prepared spatulas until the popcorn kernels are well coated.
- Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate the popcorn clusters into smaller pieces while still warm (if you wait until they are cooled it will be harder to separate).
- Cool to room temperature and serve. Store leftovers (if there are any!) in an airtight container for up to two weeks.