This Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn comes together in under 45 minutes with minimal labor and no mess. It tastes like it comes from a fancy gourmet shop and the free printable labels make it perfect for gifting!
If you've made our Ridiculously Easy Sea Salted Caramel Corn or our Caramel Apple Caramel Corn, you're going to LOVE this Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn, If you aren't familiar with these ridiculously easy, crazy delicious recipes, you're in for a wonderful treat!
The inspiration for this recipe came from a local popcorn company. A few weeks ago, Scott and I were browing through one of our favorite gift/houseware stores in Asheville, not far from where we live. We always enjoy checking out the gourmet popcorn selection and noticed a new seasonal variety called Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn.
A small bag was quite pricey ($10!) but we purchased one for "inspiration" purposes. A few nibbles of the delicious fall-inspired treat got my mind rolling and I decided to adapt my microwave caramel corn recipe to include pumpkin pie spice, knowing that would be super easy and cost WAY less.
A labor of love
Making caramel corn the old-fashioned way is a labor of love involving lots of dirty dishes, careful monitory of the caramel on the stovetop and a long slow stint in the oven with lots of stirring. This Ridiculously Easy Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn truly is ridiculously easy as it's all done in the microwave with just one bowl and a large paper grocery bag.
Besides the fact that this Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn comes together quickly with minimal mess and effort, there's another reason that we add "ridiculously easy" to the title. It's because we have an entire collection of recipes with this moniker.
To qualify for this unique category, a recipe has to have certain characteristics. You can read all about the guidelines for our Ridiculously Easy recipes in this post and view the whole RE collection here but my condensed description is "these are the recipes that make you look like a kitchen rock star with minimal effort on your part". This Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn definitely qualifies!
Best Popcorn for Caramel Corn
Although there are many brands and 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. Butterfly popcorn is more common, being the type you usually find pre-popped at grocery and convenience stores. It's also the kind that's used in microwave popcorn packets.
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 Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn recipe. My preference and the caramel corn you see in the pictures in this post is mushroom popcorn kernels popped on the stovetop. I've experimented with several brands and have had the most success with this one. It may seem a bit pricey but it's a large quantity and will make TONS of caramel corn, still infinitely cheaper than the fancy gourmet stuff!
One caveat that I've learned about mushroom popcorn. The oil needs to be very hot before you add the popcorn. I really like using a Whirley Pop Stovetop Popper. I heat the oil until I see it starting to sizzle a bit then add ¾ cup of the mushroom popcorn, cover the pot with the lid and start turning the stirring crank. Within minutes I've got a full pot of beautiful round popcorn, enough for one batch of Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn (16 cups) plus an extra bowlful for nibbling.
Corn syrup confusion
If you check the ingredient list for this recipe, you'll notice 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.
This is NOT high fructose corn syrup that you hearl ots of controversy about. Corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are two different products. The Kitchn, a popular recipe site, explains it this way; "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.
Give it away!
We love giving gifts from the kitchen to friends, neighbors, clients, teachers, co-workers - the list could go on and on. Because this Pumpkin Pie Spice 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.
To receive the free, printable PDF for these labels plus instructions on how to use them, simply leave us a comment below at the very bottom of this post letting us know you'd like them. We'll email you the labels, instructions and links for the boxes and ribbon in the photos.
One last thing...
Just a little heads up. When you make this delicious gourmet treat, be sure to stash a little bowl away for yourself. Once you set it out for family, friends, guests, etc. it will disappear before you can say Ridiculously Easy Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn!
Cafe Tips for making this Ridiculously Easy Pumpkin Pie Spice Caramel Corn
- As mentioned above, you can use any kind of popcorn for this recipe however, I think mushroom popcorn popped on the stovetop yields the best results. Here are a few tips for great stovetop popcorn:
- Use fresh kernels
- Use a good heavy bottom pot or a popper that's specially designed for making popcorn, like a Whirley Pop Popper.
- Use enough heat. The oil should be starting to bubble just a tiny bit before you add the popcorn.
- Once the first kernels start popping shake the pan vigorously on the burner or, if using a Whirley Popper, stir continuously until the popping stops. This will redistribute the kernels and prevent burning
- Immediately transfer the popcorn to a large bowl to allow the steam to escape.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Pumpkin Pie Spice 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:
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed,
for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoythis 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 the post above for types of popcorn
- ¾ cup butter I use salted
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ½ cup corn syrup (not high fructose corn syrup - I use Karo)
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Prepare a work surface by laying out two 3-feet long pieces of parchment paper, overlapping slightly.
After popping the popcorn, transfer it to a bowl. Lift the popcorn with your hands and shake the bowl lightly so any unpopped kernels fall to the bottom.
Lift 4 quarts of popcorn out of the bowl and transfer to a large brown paper grocery bag.
Combine the butter, brown sugars, corn syrup, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl. Place in the microwave and heat on high power for 2 minutes. Stir to combine. If the butter is not completely melted, return to the microwave for another 30-60 seconds.
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 more minutes.
Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. Stir well 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 microwave on high power for 1 minute. Remove the bag and hold it at the top and one of the bottom corners (if needed use a pot holder to hold the bottom corner. Shake well for about 30 seconds then return to the microwave for another minute.
Repeat cooking and shaking two more times for a total of 4 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.