This is one of those family recipes that has become so much a part of our life that it has its own stories. The time my parents made two batches to give away as neighbor gifts and ended up eating it all with friends. The time we stayed up late, imagining what it would be like to go into business selling the stuff, and I was so disappointed to wake up in the morning and find out my parents were just daydreaming. The time we tried to make it at the beach house without like half the required ingredients, necessitating a late-night drugstore run. It's that good.
This isn't sticky caramel corn - this is the classic, oven-baked, crispy kind of caramel corn. Similar in texture to the stuff in Cracker Jacks, but oh so much better. The caramel sort of dissolves against your tongue as you eat it, and it's crispy and crackly without being sticky. Mmmmmm... makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Classic Caramel Corn
6 quarts plain popped popcorn (air popped or oil popped work best, use microwave popcorn only as a last resort)
2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1 t. salt
1 c. butter
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Prepare two sheet pans (the ones with the raised sides, not completely flat), either by greasing the pans or using a SILPAT baking mat. Get your popcorn ready to be tossed immediately once you cook the caramel. Where you've got your popcorn here is up to you. Some people have it
already on the greased pans and just pour the caramel over it, but I
prefer to put it in two VERY LARGE bowls, then toss it to combine, and
then put the coated popcorn on the sheet pans. Either way works.
To make the caramel, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once it reaches a boil, stir constantly as you boil for five full minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla. It should get a little lighter in color and kind of foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn and toss to coat. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and attempt to let it cool down before scarfing. And try to stop before you get sick.