These caramel corn clusters have been a favorite in our house for the last several years. I make it a lot around the holidays for us to munch on while we’re all snuggled up on the couch watching our favorite Christmas movies. I mean, what better movie-watching snack is there besides popcorn and chocolate?!
I love sweet and salty combos, and my usual plain popcorn and chocolate snack is made even better by the addition of a salty-sweet caramel and other yummy add-ins, like almonds, toasted coconut, and goji berries. Those are my flavors of choice, but you really can add anything you like here. Feel free to add peanuts, pecans, chocolate chips, your favorite candy, etc…there are so many choices!
It used to be that I made caramel the way most people do—with butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. I now cringe at the thought of ever using corn syrup in anything, but that was the classic recipe and that’s how I made it. Little did I know there were other ways to make this same, delicious flavor with better-for-you ingredients!
I use a combo of maple syrup and honey to make this caramel and although there is a subtle hint of each flavor, it is definitely not overwhelming and neither is the coconut oil. My daughter, who doesn’t like the flavor of honey or coconut, couldn’t even tell the difference, and you know kids..they’re brutally honest. 😉
To top it all off, I use melted dark chocolate chips to drizzle over the popcorn mixture and then stick it in the fridge to cool quickly. This crunchy, sweet with a touch of salt, popcorn makes a great snack or gift to give away.
…and while you’re in the giving mood, you can send me some too! 😉
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- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter (dairy free butter works)
- ½ cup maple syrup, honey or combo of both
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 8 cups popped popcorn
- ½ cup almonds, whole or sliced (or another nut of choice)
- ½ cup additional toppings of choice, such as toasted coconut chips, goji berries, other nuts, additional chocolate chips, or a combo of each
- caramel sauce
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips, melted (dairy-free if needed)
- coarse or flaked sea salt, for sprinkling
- Into a large pot or deep sided pan, heat oil with a few popcorn kernels over medium heat, covered, until you hear the kernels pop. Quickly add remaining popcorn kernels, shaking pan to coat kernels with oil. Cover pan and continue to heat over medium-low heat, shaking the pan frequently, until kernels stop popping, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and pour popcorn (try not to include any unpopped kernels) into a large metal or glass bowl. Add mix-ins of your choice, nuts, dried berries, toasted coconut, chocolate chips, etc, and set aside while you cook the caramel. Preheat your oven to 300F and line a large baking sheet with parchment or a non-stick liner to have ready for the popcorn mixture later.
- Into a heavy sauce pan, melt oil over medium heat. Pour in syrup or honey and stir to combine. Cook over medium-low heat (As low as possible to maintain a gentle boil. If the heat is too high it will burn) without stirring for 5-8 minutes, or until mixture reaches 230F, thread stage on a candy thermometer. Watch the caramel closely because it burns very easily. Keep the heat as low as possible while maintaining a good low boil.
- When caramel is ready, remove from heat and stir in salt, extract, and baking soda. The baking soda will foam up making the caramel mixture very fluffy and airy. (Note: I've made this caramel with and without baking soda. The photo above is without. It's typically called for and supposedly improves the texture, so included it in the recipe.) Quickly pour caramel over popcorn mixture and stir to coat evenly. Many of the mix-ins will fall to the bottom of the bowl so try to incorporate those into the caramel and popcorn. Pour mixture out onto your prepared baking sheet and place into the 300F oven to bake for 15 minutes, stirring mid-way through.
- Remove pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes and then break into clumps (popcorn will crisp up as it cools.) Melt chocolate according to package directions. Usually, you can melt over a double boiler on the stove or in the microwave at half power in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until fully melted. About 1-1.5 minutes in the microwave and 3-5 minutes over a double boiler.
- Drizzle melted chocolate over the popcorn mixture, sprinkle on some sea salt, and allow to cool completely. Can also put into the fridge to get the chocolate to set quicker. Break into clusters and serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.
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