Every October Land O’Lakes Test Kitchens holds a bake sale to benefit the United Way. Everyone in the department rallies together to bake a multitude of yummy treats. One of the most popular treats we make is Favorite Caramel Corn. This year we plan on making approximately a dozen batches of this recipe. We then portion the caramel corn into small gift bags to sell at the bake sale to our fellow employees. We’ll have close to 100 bags of caramel corn. This event has become so popular there is typically a line of people waiting for us to open on sale day. This delicious caramel corn is one of the first treats to sell out.
Now, preparing for this bake sale is no easy task. It takes commitment and dedication from a large team of eager bakers to have the goodies ready for the big sale day. We work in teams and have perfected our process over the many years we have participated. We are fortunate to have a large foodservice kitchen here in the Test Kitchens. It makes preparation of the large quantities so much easier. Here are a few pictures of the team in action making Favorite Caramel Corn.
Favorite Caramel Corn is popcorn and peanuts lightly coated with caramel. We always make some batches with peanuts and some without. It is easy to make, does not require a candy thermometer and makes a large batch for sharing. You will need a large roasting pan to bake the caramel corn in so it will be crunchy and crispy. When I make it at home I use my Thanksgiving turkey roasting pan. Just think big or large capacity pan. If you don’t have a large roasting pan you can divide the mixture between two 13x9-inch baking pans. You will just need to watch it more carefully and maybe stir it a little more often while it’s baking.
Start by heating the oven to 200°F. Yes, that’s only 200°F. The low temperature allows the caramel corn to bake without burning. In the large roasting pan combine the popcorn and peanuts. We used to pop our own corn but realized the recipe works just fine using purchased plain popcorn and it makes it go together much faster. Set the filled roaster aside while you make the caramel mixture.
Combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt in a 3-quart saucepan. It’s important to use a large saucepan because the caramel mixture will fill the pan when it boils. I like to cut up my butter into large chunks because it will melt more quickly.
Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a full boil. A full boil is when you see bubbles all over the surface of the mixture. This will take about 10 minutes.
Continue cooking letting the mixture boil, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the vanilla and baking soda.
When you add the vanilla and baking soda the hot mixture will bubble and might splatter so be very careful.
The baking soda causes the mixture to foam too.
Because you are working with a very hot caramel mixture be very careful as you pour the hot mixture over the popcorn and peanuts in the roasting pan.
Gently stir the popcorn until everything is evenly coated.
Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Be sure to stir carefully and well so that all the popcorn is moved around. This will help the center popcorn to crisp-up and prevent the edges and corners from burning. I think it is best to remove the pan from the oven to stir; it’s just easier and will allow a more thorough stirring.
After baking for 1 hour immediately place the caramel corn onto waxed paper. Because the mixture is hot I recommend the waxed paper be placed on a heat proof surface such as a wooden cutting board.
Let the caramel corn cool completely.
If needed, break the caramel corn into bite-sized pieces and store in a tightly covered container.
Of course, we portioned it into small bags and labeled for our bake sale.
I do have a warning regarding this recipe: be careful, once you start eating it you won’t be able to stop! Let me know what you think of Favorite Caramel Corn by rating and reviewing the recipe, and by writing a comment.
In a pinch? Come back on Thursday for a fast, satisfying sandwich recipe.
Becky Wahlund is the Director of the Test Kitchens for Land O'Lakes and writes for our Recipe Buzz® Blog.