This weekend my family went to a Chicago-themed holiday potluck at a friend’s house in Eldorado. We wanted to bring something fun and festive so we decided to make a version of our favorite windy city confection— Chicago Mix Popcorn, a sweet and savory mix of caramel and cheese popcorn. The classic treat reminds me of when my husband and I lived in Chicago and before embarking on any road trip, we always made a stop at Garrett’s Popcorn to pick up a bag on the way out of town.
This custom recipe is focused on one-half of the treat, the red chile caramel corn. When you make it, customize it as you wish. Mix it with cheesy popcorn, add nuts, or just enjoy it on its own for a sweet and spicy snack.
As the popcorn was popping on the stove this week, the kids ran downstairs to find out why I was making popcorn, a sure sign that some kind of family movie or game night was on the horizon. Their interest only peaked when I told them I was making caramel corn.
A touch oh heat
As the brown sugar-based caramel sauce simmered away on the stove, I couldn’t resist adding a generous spoonful of red chile powder to my little bowl of baking soda sitting by the stove, the last step of the process before coating the popcorn with the caramel and butter mixture and transferring it to the oven for baking. I’m happy to report that this just might be the best cooking decision I’ve made all week. I know caramel making can be a little intimidating for some of you, but I promise, this recipe is as easy and delightful as it gets.
Making caramel the easy way
Normally when one is making caramel, you begin with sugar and sometimes a very small amount of water. Then, it becomes a waiting game requiring a close eye, and oftentimes a candy thermometer, depending on if the caramel will be made into a sauce, candy, or coating. Here, we keep things simple and no thermometer is needed, just a timer and a bit of extra care since we are dealing with very hot sugar.
When making caramel corn, it’s the baking soda that works its magic, creating a caramel sauce that isn’t hard or overly sticky. Rather, the baking soda is added at the very last minute after the caramel has come off the heat and results in a light, melt-in-your-mouth caramel corn.
This popcorn will stay fresh for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature, making it a perfect option for homemade holiday gifting.Print
Red Chile Caramel Corn
This recipe is an easy and delicious snack that is perfect for any holiday or potluck occasion. The sweet and classic treat makes it a crowd-pleaser, while the red chile powder adds a festive kick. This Red Chile Caramel Corn is easy to make and requires no special skills or equipment.
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Yield: 4 quarts
- Category: Dessert
- Method: bake
- Cuisine: New Mexican
- 16 c. popped popcorn
- 2 t. baking soda
- 2 t. New Mexico red chile powder
- 1 t. kosher salt
- 2 t. vanilla extract
- 2 c. brown sugar
- 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/2 c. light corn syrup
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Preheat the oven to 250 f.
Divide the popcorn into 2-3 large bowls, making sure you have enough room to add the caramel and stir it with a heatproof rubber spatula.
In a small bowl whisk together the baking soda, red chile powder, and salt. Place this bowl and the vanilla extract next to the stove with a measuring spoon so you’re ready when you get to this step.
Making the caramel
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat (the size of the saucepan is important for safety because the baking soda will bubble up when it’s added to the caramel sauce), add the brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Watch carefully and once the entire pot has started to rapidly boil set a timer for 3 minutes.
When the 3 minutes have passed, turn off the heat. Whisk in the baking soda mixture and the vanilla.
Time to bake
Carefully divide this mixture among your bowls of popcorn and stir, evenly coating the popcorn as much as possible. Transfer the popcorn to the prepared baking sheets and bake in the oven for 1 hour.
Let the popcorn cool completely before breaking it into pieces and storing it in an airtight container.
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