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© David James Di Pardo – 2017

CARAMEL. PEANUT. POPCORN. Not sure this recipe needs further introduction but just in case you need some convincing… I made my first batch of caramel peanut popcorn about 7 years ago for a family game night. It was an instant success… In fact whenever we organize game nights this popcorn is requested, or at this point has become a prerequisite. Its easy to munch on while playing games, and doesn’t leave your fingers sticky or greasy, mucking up your playing cards. Plus its vegan and gluten-free to boot.

If the thought of making caramel seems daunting to you, rest assured its really quite simple. Just make sure you have a candy thermometer, which are now available at most kitchen supply stores or department stores. Or of course you could purchase one online.

The process itself goes fairly quickly so make sure to read through the recipe ahead of time and have your ingredients prepped. You don’t want to still be popping your corn kernels when the caramel has already reached the right temperature. It adds unnecessary stress. And stress creates inflammation in the body and causes cortisol levels to rise, and that’s when we make messes… seriously, just prep ahead. Unfortunately I’m speaking from experience. 


© David James Di Pardo – 2017

Keeping the tray of popcorn and peanuts warn in the oven while you prepare the caramel is also extremely helpful. It might seem silly and you may be tempted to skip it, but, it prevents the caramel from hardening too quickly making the mixture easier to stir. 

Give it a try, and let me know how you liked it in the comments below. What are you favorite snack foods for game nights?


Caramel Peanut Popcorn

Makes about 9 cups
  • 8 cups air-popped popcorn kernels
  • 2 1/2 cups salted peanuts *See Note
  • 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter (half of an Earth Balance stick)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 250°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Gently mix the popcorn and peanuts in a large bowl and spread in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven to keep warm.

Measure out the vanilla and vinegar into a small bowl and set aside. Do the same for the salt and baking soda, note keep these separate from the vinegar/vanilla to avoid creating a kitchen volcano.

In a medium size pot, combine the brown sugar, maple syrup, and vegan butter. Make sure to use a large enough pot as the mixture will bubble up when the vanilla is added. 6-8 cup capacity should be plenty. Stir over medium-high heat until the butter has melted.

Once melted stop stirring and attach the candy thermometer to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, washing down the sides of the pot occasionally with a little cold water and a pastry brush.

As the mixture approaches 255°F, remove the tray of popcorn from the oven and place on a heat resistant surface. Once the caramel reaches 255°F (just past the soft-ball stage), remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla/vinegar mixture. Stand back as the mixture will bubble. As the bubbling begins to subside quickly whisk in the baking soda and salt. The mixture will lighten and begin to foam up.

Working quickly as the caramel will begin to set, pour ribbons of caramel up and down the sheet of prepared popcorn, distributing it evenly. Using a heat resistant spatula, toss the popcorn and peanut mixture with the caramel coating it as much as possible. (Be careful the caramel is hot).

Transfer the baking sheet back to the oven and bake for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the caramel feels dry. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Transfer to a serving bowl, breaking up any large clusters if desired. Popcorn will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Note: Some brands of peanuts are saltier than others. I often use unsalted peanuts and sprinkle the tray of coated caramel with pink Himalayan salt prior to baking.