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Bourbon Cacao Nib Caramel Popcorn

A delicious flavored popcorn you can make at home.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 1 hour 20 minutes
Total: 1 hour 35 minutes
Servings: 12 cups.
Author: The Bojon Gourmet


  • 2 tablespoons ghee , (see headnote)
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons cacao nibs, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon flaky salt , (such as Maldon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup bourbon whiskey
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, (preferably organic)
  • 3 tablespoons Lyle's golden syrup , (or honey, maple, or corn syrup)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped


Pop the corn:

  • In a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet with a tight fitting lid, melt the ghee over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels, toss to coat, and cover with the lid, shaking the pan occasionally until the kernels begin to pop. Shake the pan almost constantly until the popping peters out. Carefully pour the popcorn into a really big bowl (or two kinda big bowls). (Be careful of steam!) Set the popped corn aside while you...

Make the caramel:

  • Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 250º. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Combine the chopped nibs, salt and baking soda in a small bowl and place it near the stove.
  • In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour in the bourbon to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the brown sugar to the center of the bourbon, so that sugar crystals don't stick to the sides of the pan (which could cause the mixture to crystallize), then add the golden syrup, butter and vanilla bean seeds and pod. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat, without stirring, until it comes to a rolling boil. Boil for 6 minutes (set a timer and watch closely after 4 minutes; if the mixture begins to burn around the edges, immediately remove it from the heat and proceed to the next step). After six minutes, remove the pot from the heat and quickly stir in the chopped nibs, salt and baking soda. Pour the caramel over the popped corn and stir briskly until it is fairly evenly coated.

Bake the caramel corn:

  • Divide the popcorn among the baking sheets and spread it into a even layer. Place the caramel corn in the oven until dried out and the caramel is crisp when cool, 1 hour. If a lot of caramel is melting onto the pans, use a spatula to gently toss the corn together a bit.
  • Remove from the oven and cool a few minutes, then break the popcorn up into small clusters when it's cool enough to touch briefly. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container. The caramel corn should keep for a couple of weeks; if it becomes soft or sticky, spread it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dry it out in a 200º oven until crisp.


Popping corn in oil on the stove requires an oil with a very high smoke point, otherwise the oil will burn and give off an unpleasant and unhealthy rancid smell. Ghee (butter that has been completely clarified) is my favorite choice, with a warm flavor and a very high smoke point of 485ºF; and I'm extra happy to now be able to purchase locally made, organic ghee by Ancient Organics. Ghee can be found in the Indian section of well-stocked grocers, or you can make it yourself. If you can't find ghee, refined coconut oil or high oleic Canola oil are decent back-up choices; see this table for a complete list of the smoke points of oils.
If you don't have flaky salt, such as Maldon (my favorite), start with 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt. You can sprinkle more over the top of the caramel corn prior to baking if it needs more.
The caramel corn will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a week or two; if it gets soft or sticky, dry it out in a low oven. (Though good luck making it last that long...).
Variation: Rosemary Calvados Caramel Corn
Use Calvados in place of the bourbon, honey in place of the Lyle's syrup, light brown sugar in place of dark brown, and 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary in place of the cacao nibs.
Nutritional values are based on one of twelve cups.


Calories: 187kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 21mg | Sodium: 222mg | Potassium: 37mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 175IU | Calcium: 13mg | Iron: 0.3mg
Making this? I'd love to see!Tag your snaps @The_Bojon_Gourmet and #bojongourmet!