It’s been two days since I published my gift guide and I’ve made no progress on my holiday shopping list. I have, however, consumed lots and lots of this simple, maple-sweetened caramel corn. I can’t help myself! This is the one time of year that I wish I worked at an office, just for the homemade, powdered sugar-dusted cookies and chocolate peanut butter buckeyes.
I’ve managed to appease my holiday cravings with my own homemade treats. Case in point? This popcorn. It’s dangerously easy to make and I’m powerless in the presence of its salty-sweet, cinnamon-flavored crunchiness.
Most caramel popcorn is made with corn syrup, which is an ingredient I’d rather avoid, plus a lot of butter. This healthier, dairy-free, homemade version is made simply with reduced maple syrup, nut butter, spices and freshly popped popcorn. And it is delicious.
Feel free to change up your caramel popcorn! I added toasted, sliced almonds to match the almond butter, but you could leave out extra nuts or substitute your favorite (I bet pecans would be great). Once you’ve mixed the maple syrup mixture into the popcorn, you could add in some mini chocolate chips, cranberries, toasted coconut, sprinkles… anything that sounds good.
Some notes on alternative sweeteners: If you don’t have maple syrup at home, it is possible to make this caramel corn with honey. I tried it and, as usual, the honey browned too quickly in the oven. I would suggest reducing your oven temperature to 325 if you want to try honey-sweetened caramel corn. You might need to bake it a minute or two longer, but keep a careful eye on it so it doesn’t start to burn.
Also noteworthy, the original recipe called for brown rice syrup, which you could use, but I don’t recommend it because I’m concerned about the level of arsenic in concentrated brown rice syrup. (Actually, I’m concerned about arsenic in all rice products, but especially in concentrated forms.) Maple syrup to the rescue!
- ⅓ cup popcorn kernels
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 cups popped popcorn
- ¾ cup sliced almonds or other nuts (optional)
- ½ cup real maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons almond butter or nut butter of choice (peanut butter and cashew butter work, too)
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Toast the nuts: Once the oven has preheated, arrange the almonds (or other nuts) in a single layer on the parchment paper. Roast the nuts in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes, until fragrant. Keep an eye on them so they don't burn. If you're using whole nuts, chop the toasted nuts into small pieces on a cutting board.
- Meanwhile, pop the popcorn: First, place a large mixing bowl near the stove. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid. Turn the heat up to medium, add 2 kernels of corn, and cover. Once the kernels pop, remove the lid and pour in the remaining popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give the pot a little shimmy to distribute the kernels evenly.
- Cook over medium heat, shaking the pot occasionally. Crack the lid just a smidge so the popcorn stays crisp, and cook until the popping sound slows to about one pop per every few seconds. Remove the pan from heat and dump the popcorn your bowl, taking care not to pour in any unpopped kernels at the bottom of the pot. If necessary, pick out any unpopped kernels that made it into the bowl with a spoon.
- To make the caramel sauce: In a small, heavy bottomed pot, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium heat. Keep a watchful eye on the syrup and continue boiling for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, reducing heat only if necessary to prevent overflow. Remove the pot from heat.
- Add the nut butter, vanilla extract, salt and cinnamon to the pot of maple syrup. Whisk until well blended. Drizzle the mixture over the popcorn and toss with a rubber spatula or big spoon until well mixed. Pour the popcorn on the parchment-covered baking sheet and arrange it in a single layer.
- Bake the popcorn for 6 minutes, then rotate the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with additional cinnamon and salt, to taste. The popcorn will continue to crisp up as it cools. Once it's cool, break the popcorn into pieces (or leave them in chunks!) and serve.
Make it nut free: I think sunflower butter would work in place of the almond butter, but I haven't tried. You'll also want to skip the toasted nuts or use toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds instead.
Storage suggestions: This popcorn is best when fresh, but it keeps well in a sealed plastic bag (squeeze out as much air as possible) for a few days.
Change it up: You can do so many things with this recipe! Use a different nut butter and different nuts. Toss in dried cranberries, tiny chocolate chips and/or toasted shredded/flaked coconut while the mixture is wet. Use different spices (I think spicy curry powder could be great!)
If you love this recipe: You'll also love my Peppermint Bark Popcorn, Lemon, Parmesan and Black Pepper Popcorn and Stovetop Popcorn with Chili Powder and Dark Chocolate.