This recipe was the result of three things. First, my son made a snow globe for a kindergarten 3-D weather project, and after filling it up with corn syrup and water, I had LOTS of corn syrup left over. Second, I have been trying to think of or find recipes that are naturally gluten free. And third, I live in Las Vegas, and I spend the 6 months of the year that are blazing hot trying to avoid my oven, so I'm always looking for ways to use my microwave. I was so excited when this recipe worked.
Microwave Caramel Corn
8-16 cups popped popcorn (see note)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 unsalted butter, sliced into 4 pieces
1/8 c. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
(If you don't have an air popper, you can pop popcorn in the microwave. Take a brown paper lunch bag, put 1/3 cup of unpopped popcorn kernels in it, roll down the top a couple of times. Place it standing up, not on its side, in the microwave. Use your popcorn setting, or pop it for 2-3 minutes, and listen for the pops to slow down. When there is about 2 seconds between pops, or when you can see that your bag is about to overflow, your popcorn is done. My microwave has kind of a wimpy popcorn setting, so I hit it and then add 20 seconds. That gives me a full bag of popcorn, which is about 8 cups. ) Added 5/12/09: Apparently you can start a fire with a paper bag in some microwaves. I haven't had a problem, but I saw an online discussion where someone had. Anyway, you might want to check your microwave's manual or buy a microwave popcorn popper. At any rate be careful!
Once your popcorn is popped, dump it in a big bowl, shake it a little so the "old maids" fall down into the bottom. Then transfer the popcorn by hand to another large microwave safe bowl, leaving the old maids in the first bowl. Discard the old maids. Spray a large spoon lightly with pan spray and leave it with your bowl of popcorn. Tear off a couple of large sheets of waxed paper or tinfoil and spread them out on the counter.
In a 2-quart glass bowl, combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and vanilla. Heat it for 1 minute 30 seconds on high, then take the bowl out and stir it (I use a wire whisk) until it is well combined. Return the bowl to the microwave, and cook it for another minute. Pay attention, you do not want to burn it or let it overflow, you do want it to really boil. Remove it from the microwave and stir in the baking soda. Working quickly, dribble the syrup over the popcorn. Use the spoon you sprayed and stir/toss the popcorn to coat it with caramel. Stick the bowl back in the microwave for 30 seconds, and then stir the popcorn again. Repeat this two times for a total of 1 minute 30 seconds, and 3 stirs. Spread the popcorn out on the waxed paper and let it cool until the coating is set. Store it in an airtight container.
My microwave is an 1100 watt microwave. Microwaves vary. Check the wattage on your microwave. You will have to vary the cooking times accordingly. If your microwave has less wattage you probably will have to cook the caramel and the popcorn longer. If your microwave has a higher wattage, you might need less time, or you could reduce the power and try using the same times. In any event, pay attention to it while it is cooking, use your eyes and your nose. You do not want to burn the caramel or popcorn, if you can help it, because it will make a stinky mess. Be very careful when you are handling the hot caramel; you can really burn yourself with it. You could vary this recipe by adding nuts, or other fun ingredients, to the popcorn.
Note: If you use 16 cups of popcorn you are going to have lightly coated, but still delicious, caramel popcorn. If you use 8 cups you will have decadent, sugary caramel corn. For every day snacking I usually make the 16 cup version, it doesn't mess the local diabetic up much. For a special occasion or holiday treats, make the sugary stuff. It's all really good. You could also double the caramel recipe and pour it over 16-cups of popcorn, however, you have to increase your cooking times by roughly half to get the same result.