The editors and contributors at destination online cooking community Food52 share a recipe that’s as corny as it gets. At Food52, we love recipes — but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don’t always need a recipe, you make your favorite dishes a lot more often. Today: Take back caramel corn from the state fair. With five simple steps and the perfect caramel ratio, you can make it better, and make it your own. Pop corn, cook caramel, combine the two, and give it a brief time-out in the oven. There you have it. How to Make Caramel Corn in Five Steps 1. Pop your corn in whatever way is easiest for you. It’s important that your popcorn be fresh and sturdy, which is why we recommend popping your own. Start with ½ c. of kernels to make 10-12 c. of popcorn. (We like to pop it in a little bit of neutral oil in a big, lidded Dutch oven on the stovetop; shake the pot here and there.) Dump the popcorn into a large bowl and, if you want to get creative, add nuts or dried fruit. 2. Start making the caramel. Melt 1½ sticks of butter, then add 1 c. of brown sugar and 1-2 tbsp. of molasses. Once the sugar’s melted, crank up the heat and boil 3-4 minutes. Stir constantly so that the caramel doesn’t stick and burn. (If you like a bit of bite to your caramel corn, it’s helpful to know that the longer the caramel is on the stove, the crunchier your corn will be. Just don’t leave the caramel on the stove so long that it starts to smoke.) 3. Add 1 tsp. of vanilla, ½ tsp. of salt (1 tsp. if you want a salted caramel corn), and the magic ingredient: ¼ tsp. baking soda. Baking soda makes the caramel airy and foamy, giving it a softer texture and allowing it to better coat the corn. The air bubbles that form when baking soda is added make the caramel lighter in color and texture. Now’s your chance to add other spices or flavorings to the caramel: cayenne, hot sauce, or curry powder for a savory, spicy popcorn; cinnamon, cloves, and other spices for a holiday-themed variety; or maybe some maple syrup if you’re Canadian. 4. Working quickly, pour the caramel into the bowl of popcorn and stir until all the corn glistens with the golden sauce. 5. Into the oven it goes! Spread your caramel corn into an even layer on a lined baking sheet and bake at 250° for 30-60 minutes, depending on how dry you like the corn. Stir every 15 minutes, breaking up clumps (or leaving them intact, if you’re a fan). If you have self-control, let the corn cool completely. Otherwise, pop a piece into your mouth straight from the baking sheet. Sweet. Photos: James Ransom; Sarah Shatz / Courtesy of Food52 Tipsy Maple Corn We were initially seduced by “tipsy” in the title, but once we tried this recipe, we fell in love with more than the Jack Daniel’s-infused syrup. Peanuts give the treat heft; pancetta lends it salt and richness. The most important step is the oven crisping. Be careful not to burn the edges, and if the popcorn isn’t crisp when you take it out of the oven, it will continue to firm as it cools. Around-the-World Coconut Popcorn Consider this mix the exotic alternative to Cracker Jacks. It’s sweet, savory, and spicy, drawing inspiration from Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Caribbean flavors. The combination of peanuts, lime zest, and shredded coconut brings a sense of discovery to each crunchy bite. If you find Thai chilies difficult to source near you, substitute serranos or jalapenos.