I have a confession.
You know those popcorn tins that pop up (pun totally intended) in stores this time of year? Yeah, I love them.
I have another confession.
You know those popcorn tins that have the trio of flavors—butter, cheese, and caramel? I always go for the cheese first. I don’t care if it gives me orange fingers. Then I go for the butter. THEN I go for the caramel.
I’ve just never really been a caramel corn fan. Maybe it’s because the caramel corn in those tins almost tastes bitter? Too syrupy? Am I the only one that thinks this?
But let me tell you. If those holiday tins included this Turtle Popcorn, I’d be all over it. Sorry, cheese and butter. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, it’s actually that this Turtle Popcorn is irresistible in all sorts of ways.
It starts with stove-top popcorn. That’s right. I went all old-fashioned, and I made popcorn on the stove for the first time ever. And I’m hooked. It’s so fun. It’s so delicious. And it’s so easy! I decided to keep it local, and I used Lakota Popcorn, which is popcorn grown and harvested by the Lower Brule tribe of South Dakota. Love it.
With stove-top pop, the key is making sure the oil is hot before the kernels are placed in the pot with it. One kernel of popcorn should be placed in a large pot with the oil. Once the kernel pops, it means the oil is hot and the rest of the kernels can be added. It’s important that there is enough room in the pot so each kernel touches the bottom of the pot. Once the kernels are thrown in, cover the pot with a lid. While seeing the lid stays on, slightly shake the pot to promote popping and to prevent burning. Before you know it, you’ll have a huge pot of popcorn.
What I love about this popcorn is the buttery, sweet, and salty caramel coating. Despite ingredients that you’d think would make the caramel heavy (like brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup), it’s anything but heavy. In a weird way, the caramel is kind of light, so you’ll keep eating and eating Turtle Popcorn before realizing the damage done. I totally speak from experience.
The caramel-y popcorn is tossed with pecan pieces and it is baked in a low oven. Every so often, the popcorn is stirred—or rather scooped and redistributed on a large jelly roll pan. Mini chocolate chips are thrown in at the end. I decided to throw half the chocolate chips during the last 15 minutes of baking, and I sprinkled the remaining half once the popcorn was out of the oven. I like my chips a little melty, but it’s up to you.
This Turtle Popcorn is so addictive. The salty and sweet caramel combined with chocolate and the nutty texture of the pecans is definitely a winner. What I love about this recipe is that it makes a big ol’ bowl full. I’ve got just the idea: you could totally make your own holiday popcorn tins this year. Your family, friends, and neighbors would love you for it.
5-6 Tbsp. canola oil
2/3 cups unpopped popcorn
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup white corn syrup
3/4 tsp. sea salt
Pinch cream of tartar (using your thumb and index finger, just pinch the cream of tartar and add)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup pecan pieces
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
In a large, covered pot, heat the oil and 1 kernel of popcorn. After the kernel pops, pour in 2/3 cup popcorn and recover. Shake the pot frequently until all the corn in popped. Remove all loose kernels.
Preheat oven to 250F degrees. In a medium saucepan, bring to boil brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, sea salt, and cream of tartar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and baking soda. Drizzle half of caramel over the popcorn and sprinkle with 1/2 cup pecan pieces. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the popcorn well. Drizzle the remaining caramel over the popcorn and sprinkle the remaining pecans, and stir the popcorn well. Pour popcorn onto a parchment-paper-lined jelly roll pan and spread out popcorn. Bake for one hour, stirring (or rather scooping and re-spreading out) popcorn every 15 minutes. Chocolate chips can be sprinkled over popcorn during the last 15 minutes of baking or once out of the oven. Spread onto parchment paper on counter to cool. Makes approximately 4 quarts of popcorn.
Recipe adapted from Patty B., Norfolk Unit 16), and Jean B., Cook Unit 360, originally found in the Cooking with Pride cookbook by the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Nebraska 2010.