Gooey, crunchy, nutty, and deliciously chewy, this Caramel Popcorn Cake is a quick and easy way to get a decadent cake onto your table. It’ll be sure to wow guests both young and old alike – and it’s gluten free, too! (Skip to recipe.)

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cakeCooking with Meredith

Last week was Meredith‘s birthday. She turned eight. In addition to cooking and getting creative in the kitchen, Meredith loves playing with Lego, spelling big hard words, Ukrainian dancing, and wrestling with her brothers.

To celebrate her birthday, we made a popcorn cake . . . a most delicious and simple way to celebrate any occasion.

And a whole lot of fun to make, too!

ccoking with kids: meredith with caramel popcorn cakeThis popcorn cake recipe is based on the simple butter and melted marshmallow base used for rice krispie squares, but we used coconut oil and added molasses to give it a lovely caramel flavour and colour. The molasses keeps the cake soft and a bit ‘gooey’ – just what a birthday cake should be! The pecans and dried cranberries add a nuttiness and tang that take this simple cake into the realm of ‘Wow!’

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cakeI think I’m going to make one for my next grown-up gathering, too!

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: Molasses comes in 3 different ‘strengths’, with blackstrap molasses being the darkest and strongest, cooking molasses being somewhat lighter, and fancy molasses being the lightest in colour and mildest tasting. For this recipe we used fancy molasses to get a lovely mild caramel flavour, but I’ve also made the cake using blackstrap molasses plus golden syrup. Don’t omit the salt – it brings out the flavour and adds a bright ‘salted caramel’ kind of punch.

Tip: To measure molasses, lightly spray the measuring cup or spoon with cooking oil spray or wipe it with a thin film of coconut oil or butter and the molasses will slide right out.

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

No-Bake Caramel Popcorn Cake

Skills practiced: measuring, stirring, patting into pan

  • ¼ cup coconut oil or vegetable oil + ½ cup popcorn kernels (or 14 cups/3½ quarts/3.3litres oil-popped popcorn)
  • ½ cup (115gms) coconut oil or butter
  • 250 grams (8.8 oz) marshmallows (6 cups mini marshmallows or 37 regular marshmallows)
  • ¼ cup (4 tablespoons/60ml) fancy molasses (or 2 tablespoons blackstrap or cooking molasses plus 2 tablespoons golden syrup, corn syrup or brown rice syrup)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, reduce salt to ¼ teaspoon)
  • 1 cup (100gms) pecan halves
  • 1 cup (120gms) dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toast the pecans on a cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. Let them cool.

Lightly grease a tube (angel food cake) pan or 9×13″ pan with cooking oil spray or oil.

Then, pop the popcorn kernels. In a stovetop popcorn popper or a large pot with a handle and lid, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat. If you don’t have a big enough pot, make the popcorn in two batches.

Once the oil is rippling a little bit in the pot, pour in the popcorn kernels. Put the lid on the pot and as soon as you hear the first kernels pop, start shaking the pot back and forth on the burner, holding the lid down with one hand and a pot holder and shaking with the other hand and a pot holder. If you don’t shake the pot, the popcorn kernels will burn. If you need a break from shaking, lift the pot up for a few seconds so it is held just a half inch (one centimetre) from the burner, then put it back on the burner and keep shaking. If using a stovetop popper you can just hold the pot handle with one hand and turn the stirring crank with the other.

popping the corn for the caramel popcorn cake: cooking with kidsIMG_7609a caramel popcorn cake

Keep shaking or stirring the pot until the popping slows down and you hear only the occasional pop. Remove the pot from the burner and leave the lid on until you don’t hear any more pops.

Measure 14 cups of the popcorn kernels into the largest bowl you have (or a big roasting pan). Try not to get any unpopped kernels into the bowl. You get to nibble on any popcorn left over.

Add the toasted pecans and the dried cranberries to the bowl.

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cakecooking with kids: add the pecans and cranberries to the popcorn

In a large saucepan on the stove, melt the coconut oil or butter over medium heat. Add the marshmallows, molasses, and salt.

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cakecooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cakecooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

Stir until the marshmallows are completely melted and the the mixture is smooth. You will have to stir it hard at the end to make sure all the melted coconut oil is mixed in.

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

oaky, ready to pour it quickly into the bowl of popcorn

Now you need to WORK QUICKLY to mix everything before the mixture cools. (It is handy to have two people to do this – one to pour the mixture out of the pot and hold it over the bowl while the other one scrapes the pot.)

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

look at that luscious coating

Pour the marshmallow molasses mixture over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the pot clean. Use the spatula to stir the popcorn until everything is coated in the marshmallow caramel. Go all around the bowl, scraping to the bottom and bringing the spatula up to coat the popcorn.

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

as you stir, you get lots of cool, spiderwebby strings!

Quickly dump the mixture into the greased pan and scrape in the bits of popcorn sticking to the bowl. Grease your palms by rubbing them with a bit of coconut oil or butter, or by spraying them with cooking oil spray. Use your greased palms to press the popcorn down into the pan a bit and to smooth the top.

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake

press down, but not too hard

Put into the fridge to cool and harden for about 1 hour. Then turn the cake over and use a butter knife to loosen it onto a plate, or cut it into squares if you made it in the 9×13″ pan.

cooking with kids: caramel popcorn squaresMakes 12 slices of popcorn cake, or 15 squares.

Keeps well at room temperature, uncovered, for up to a week, although it’s never lasted that long in our house! (The molasses keeps it from hardening.)

Guten Appetit!


See other ‘Cooking With Kids’ posts here.


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 cooking with kids: caramel popcorn cake