This microwave Caramel Apple Caramel Corn pops with bright apple and buttery caramel flavors! It's ridiculously easy to make and is addictingly delicious!
If you enjoy caramel apples and love crisp, buttery caramel corn, this Caramel Apple Caramel Corn recipe is tailor-made for you! And if you like to look like a kitchen rock star, with minimal effort on your part, this recipe will definitely tick that box!
This caramel corn recipe was inspired by a local popcorn company that makes the most amazing popcorn in super creative, crazy delicious varieties. They always have a few new seasonal renditions and earlier this fall I was intrigued with their latest - a Caramel Apple Caramel Corn. I picked up a bag and fell in love after the first crisp, buttery, bursting-with-apple bite.
The only problem with the local popcorn is the price. Whew! Depending on where you purchase it, a 9-ounce bag runs from 8 to 13 dollars! On top of that, the Caramel Apple Caramel Corn is considered one of their "premium" selections so the price falls in a higher range.
As I munched on the delicious, expensive, apple-infused popcorn, I wondered if I could replicate it at home. I remembered our easy (actually ridiculously easy) Sea-Salted Microwave Popcorn (pictured below)and wondered if I could adapt the recipe to include a burst of apple flavor.
Scott often calls me "the mad kitchen scientist" because, when I get an idea, I can't stop working on it until it's just right. I'm happy to say, that after a bit of experimentation, testing and tweaking, this Caramel Apple Caramel Corn is "just right".
To get that "pop" of apple, I reduced some apple cider in a sauté pan by boiling it on the stovetop. A cup of apple cider was my starting point but, with further testing, I found that 1½ cups reduced down to a quarter cup produced the perfect amount of bright apple flavor. A sauté pan is great for reducing because it has a lot of surface area, which allows the cider to concentrate quickly. Then it was simply a matter of subbing the apple-y syrup for a portion of the corn syrup in the original recipe.
What's the difference between apple cider and apple juice?
Great question! Actually, they're fairly similar. The difference (generally) is that apple cider is made from fresh-pressed apples and isn't filtered, sweetened or cooked. The flavor is bright and fresh and can differ, depending on what type of apple it's made from. Apple cider, since it's unfiltered is usually cloudy and needs to be refrigerated since it's not processed and usually not pasteurized. It will start to ferment if left out at room temperature.
Apple juice, on the other hand, is usually transparent and lighter in color. It's filtered and pasteurized, giving it a longer shelf life, a sweeter taste, and a smoother texture.
The good news? You can actually use either one for this Caramel Apple Caramel Corn. I think apple cider gives a fresher apple flavor but the end product is also delicious when made with apple juice. That means that you can make this caramel corn any time of year!
What kind of popcorn should I use for this caramel corn?
Although there are many varieties of popcorn kernels, there are two basic shapes, mushroom and butterfly. Mushroom kernels will produce large round popcorn while butterfly kernels pop in whimsical, unpredictable shapes, with lots of “wings” protruding this way and that.
I tried both mushroom and butterfly and felt like the mushroom popcorn held up better in the stirring (shaking in the case of microwave caramel corn) and coating process. Also, because the mushroom pops round kernels, they have a larger surface to hold caramel coating. That's a win, win!
All that being said, you could use microwave or stovetop popcorn and mushroom or butterfly kernels for this Sea Salted Microwave Caramel Corn recipe. My preference and the caramel corn you see in the pictures is mushroom popcorn kernels popped on the stovetop.
Just a little word on corn syrup. If you check the ingredient list below, you'll notice there's a small amount of corn syrup. Corn syrup is important when making candies and some other treats with sugar. Why? Corn syrup prevents sugar from crystalizing which causes graininess. It's a scientific reaction that you can read more about here. Other syrups like maple syrup and honey sadly do not work the same way.
You may have heard some controversy about high fructose corn syrup. It seems that increasing numbers of people are reluctant to use corn syrup because of the negative health effects reported with high-fructose corn syrup.
But did you know that corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are two different products? According to The Kitchn, "both products are made from corn starch, but regular corn syrup is 100 percent glucose, while high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has had some of its glucose converted to fructose enzymatically." The article goes on to say, "scientists are examining the potentially negative effects of consuming large amounts of fructose in the form of HFCS, but regular corn syrup is not part of that consideration, as it does not contain fructose".
I use Karo brand corn syrup for this Microwave Caramel Corn which does not contain fructose. Its ingredient list includes, "corn syrup, salt, vanilla". To be safe, I would recommend checking the label of the corn syrup you purchase.
I do like to keep things in balance tough and agree with health experts that sugar and sugary treats should be used and consumed in moderation. That's why I like to portion out this crazy good caramel corn and give it away. I generally have a decent amount of willpower when it comes to sweets, but NOT with this stuff!
Give it away!
Yes, this is incredibly easy, gourmet tasting Caramel Apple Caramel Corn makes a FANTASTIC gift!
Who do you want to share a little sweet, caramel-y love with? It's great for friends, neighbors, clients, teachers, co-workers - the list could go on and on. Because this Caramel Apple Caramel Corn is so "giftable", we've created a fun, cheerful label to adorn your boxes, bags, jars... however you decide to package this epicurean delight.
If you'd like to receive a free, printable PDF for these labels, along with instructions on how to use them, simply leave us a comment below at the very bottom of this post. We'll email you the labels, instructions and links for the boxes and ribbon in the photos.
You want to put this Caramel Apple Caramel Corn on your must-make soon list. Your friends, neighbors and co-workers want you to do this too although they don't know it yet. However, once they try it, they'll be begging you for more. I won't tell them it's ridiculously easy if you don't!
Café Tips for making this Ridiculously Easy Caramel Apple Caramel Corn
- I LOVE my Whirly Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper. It makes popping real popcorn failproof, super easy and super fast!
- Start requesting paper bags (instead of plastic) at the grocery store! They are the perfect vehicles to use for this microwave caramel corn. There's no mess except in the bag which can be disposed of after use.
- You'll need a large microwave-safe bowl (at least 2-quart) for this recipe as the caramel mixture will bubble up. A microwave-safe bowl is one that won't melt or heat up when used in the microwave. For this recipe, it's really nice to have one with a handle as you need to remove the bowl from the microwave several times to stir. I love this Pyrex microwave-safe bowl and use mine ALL the time. The handle does not get the slightest bit warm.
- This recipe calls for a small amount of corn syrup. Corn syrup keeps sugar from crystalizing when making candy. However, If you live in the UK or other areas of the world where corn syrup is not available, I tested this recipe using an equal amount of Lyle's Golden Syrup in lieu of corn syrup with successful results. On the other hand, I also tried subbing maple syrup and honey for the corn syrup with disastrous results. The sugar crystalized, made the syrup grainy and didn't coat the popcorn well.
- I like to use mushroom popcorn (see discussion on types of popcorn above in the post) popped on the stovetop for this Caramel Apple Caramel Corn but stovetop butterfly popcorn and microwave popcorn can also be used. Mushroom popcorn popped in the microwave will not have the pretty round appearance you see in the pictures above as it doesn't get hot enough in the microwave.
- Whether you make your popcorn on the stovetop or in the microwave, it's important to transfer it to a bowl and gently lift and lightly shake the popcorn to allow any old maids (unpopped kernels) to sink to the bottom of the bowl. No one wants to bite into a delicious handful of caramel corn only to find a hard, unpopped kernel adhered to it.
- If you decide to use microwave popcorn, I recommend a natural type without any additional flavoring. I like Orville Redenbacher Natural microwave popcorn. It's lightly salted but additional ingredients are minimal.
- I like to use a combination of light and dark brown sugars but 100% light brown sugar will also work. I don't recommend using all dark brown sugar as I've found that the syrup can get grainy.
- Every microwave is a little different regarding the way they heat as well as the power level. These instructions work well on my microwave which is 900 Watts. If your microwave has a lower wattage, you may want to go an additional minute or two. If it's a higher wattage, you may want to shake the bag every 45 seconds instead of every minute as directed.
- If you finish making this Caramel Apple Caramel Corn and it's completely cooled and you find it's not as crisp as you'd like, simply return it to a clean paper bag and microwave it for another minute or two, shaking well in between and after each additional minute.
Thought for the day:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoy this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations, and ideas for variations.
- 16 cups popped popcorn see post for types of popcorn
- 1 ½ cups apple cider you could also use 100% apple juice
- 3 tablespoons corn syrup (Not high fructose corn syrup - I use Karo. You can also use Golden Syrup)
- ¾ cup butter (1½ sticks) I use salted
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup dark brown sugar (If you don't have dark brown sugar you can omit it and just use 1½ cups of light brown sugar.)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
Prepare a work surface (kitchen counter) by laying out a 4 feet long piece of parchment paper.
After popping the popcorn, transfer it to a bowl. Lift the popcorn with your hands and shake the bowl lightly so the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom. Lift the 4 quarts of popcorn out of the bowl and transfer to a large brown paper grocery bag.
In a medium-size non-stick sauté pan, bring the apple cider to a boil over medium high heat. Boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until the cider is reduced to ¼ cup. Transfer the cider to a large microwave-safe bowl.
Add the corn syrup and stir well to combine. Add the butter, brown sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and stir until everything is well incorporated. Place in the microwave and heat on high power for 3 minutes.
After stirring, return to the microwave for 1 minute. The mixture should be bubbling up furiously by this point. Remove bowl and stir well then return to the microwave for another minute. Repeat this cooking and stirring for a total of 3 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. Stir until all of the baking soda is well incorporated. Pour the hot mixture over the popcorn in the bag. Fold the top of the bag down once and shake, shake, shake to distribute syrup through the corn.
Microwave on high power for 1 minute. Remove the bag and hold it at the folden down top and one of the bottom corners. Shake well the return to the microwave for another minute. Repeat cooking and shaking two more times for a total of 5 minutes. Turn the popcorn out onto the prepared parchment paper. Allow to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container. The caramel corn will keep well for 1-2 weeks.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips to ensure success.
If you prefer to use Metric measurements there is a button in each of our recipes, right above the word “Instructions”. Just click that button to toggle to grams, milliliters, etc. If you ever come across one of our recipes that doesn't have the Metric conversion (some of the older recipes may not), feel free to leave a comment and I will add it.