makes about 8 cups
Have a clean paper grocery bag or oversized mixing bowl ready.
Heat a 4-quart heavy pan over medium heat, and coat the bottom with oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the popcorn, shake pan to distribute kernels across the surface, then put a lid on the pan, leaving a small crack between the lid and pan for steam to escape.
When the first popcorn kernel pops, put the lid on all the way. As the popcorn starts popping, shake the pan vigorously across the surface of the stove burner, to make sure the kernels and the hot oil are distributed evenly. When the popping frequency slows to a few seconds between pops, take the pan off the heat.
Pour the popped popcorn into the paper grocery bag (or big serving bowl) to cool. If you can, try to leave any un-popped “dud” kernels behind in the pan. (Warning: unpopped kernels, coated with peanut butter caramel, are a serious tooth hazard). Lightly salt the popcorn to taste.
Meanwhile, mix the honey and sugar in a small saucepan on the stove on high heat. Stir continuously until the mixture boils, then reduce heat to a simmer. Let sweet mixture simmer for about 2 min, then remove pan from the heat and add the peanut butter. Stir the mixture until all the peanut butter is melted into the honey-sugar blend, then mix in the vanilla.
Immediately pour the molten peanut butter caramel over the popcorn, and stir with a long-handled wooden spoon until it’s all coated. Let popcorn cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Shortcut: this sweet peanut butter caramel recipe will also cover one standard bag of microwave popcorn, so you can substitute that for the scratch-made stovetop popcorn if you prefer.