Our Spicy Caramel Popcorn Breaks the Sweet Monotony With Some Heat

February 7, 2018

With the season of love just around the corner, one way to counter feeling surfeited with sweetness is with a hint of fiery heat. The duo of sweet plus spicy has a distinctive way of evening out each other’s impact and bringing out each other’s best without losing their individual presence, and that synthesis—expressed through a crunchy, addictive medium, like this fun, flavorful popcorn snack—makes for something that might be even more loveable than what you had before.

To flavor the popcorn, we mix in a combination of cayenne pepper and a quick caramel that taints each piece with a sweet, spicy kick. The recipe involves some caramelization alchemy (read the recipe carefully before you dive in); once you’ve got your molten-hot elixir down, pour it into the popcorn and watch it form a thin amber shell that embraces every kernel as it cools. Relish in the sweetness and toffee-like depth of the caramel as it works in the savory punch of salt. And as the heat of cayenne starts to kick in (watch out, it’s one sneaky ninja), sweet relief comes via the balancing act of the caramel as you grab another piece. This is a snack that’s hard to stop popping with how one flavor sensation calls for the countering power of the other.

Spicy Caramel Popcorn

  • Serves: 2 servings
  • Active time: 30 mins
  • Total time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Medium



  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp salt


  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 tbsp butter


  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment/wax paper and set aside.
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil and butter until butter sizzles.
  3. Add the popcorn kernels and cover pot with lid.
  4. Turn heat to low and wait for popcorn to pop, shaking the pot every once in a while to ensure that the popcorn does not burn.
  5. Take popcorn and transfer to a large bowl.
    Add cayenne and salt to the popcorn, tossing evenly to coat.
  6. For the caramel: in a small pot, add the brown sugar and water.
  7. Heat this over medium heat without stirring (to avoid crystallization) until it turns a dark amber color, taking care not to let it burn.
  8. Add in the butter and stir until bubbles subside.
  9. Working quickly, pour caramel over popcorn and stir until popcorn is well coated.
  10. Spread on prepared baking sheet and allow to
    fully cool, about 30 minutes.
  11. Break apart and serve.
Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

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