15–20 c. popped popcorn -- we do it in oil on the stovetop
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. margarine or butter
1/4 c. corn syrup
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
For asterisks (*), see NOTES below.
(1) Pour 15–20 cups popped popcorn into large paper bag. As you measure it out, sift through it by hand (or some other means) to avoid including unpopped kernels. Set bag aside.
(2) Measure out brown sugar, margarine (or butter), and corn syrup into a 1–2 quart *measuring bowl. No need to stir; just microwave for 3 minutes. Then, stir and microwave again for *2–3 minutes. Stir again.
(3) Now add vanilla and baking soda and stir. (The mixture will rise some with the baking soda.)
(4) Pour caramel mixture over the popped popcorn in the brown paper bag. Use mixing spoon to gently stir up some of the caramel-and-popcorn mixture in the bag; do this to distribute the caramel mixture more or less evenly inside the bag before closing it up.
(5) Fold over top of bag at least twice. Shake vigorously at different orientations. Microwave for 45 seconds. Shake vigorously again. Microwave again for 45 seconds. Shake vigorously a third time. *Microwave a third time for 45 seconds.
(6) Pour out contents of bag onto large cookie sheet. Spread caramel corn out to let cool.
(Store in airtight container.)
Choose a measuring bowl with a handle. This makes it easier for pouring out the mixture into the bag. Also, choose a large measuring bowl over a smaller one to prevent the mixture from overflowing in the microwave during the second 2–3 min. (Ours is just over 1 quart, and it is necessary to monitor it while it cooks the second time.)
As for the length of time in the microwave and the number of times to repeat the microwave process, these directions are adapted for the (seemingly) more intense microwaves of today.
Our original recipe gave these times: 3 min., 3 min.; 1 min., 1 min., 1 min. But lately we omit the last minute of cooking and pour it all out onto the cookie sheet after two one-minute turns in the microwave. (Just open up the bag and see whether it looks good to you.) This avoids the risk of overcooking, which leaves it tasting too crisp and almost burnt.