Cooking at Home: Caramel Corn

This is an old friend I hadn’t visited with for some time. The subject of caramel corn came up in a recent conversation and it set me on a nostalgic trip back to when I used to cook up batches of the stuff at home. So I dug out this yellowed, stained recipe from my files and reconnected with a favorite snack. I originally got the recipe from my cousin, who told me she can still picture her source: a recipe card that had come in the mail as part of a magazine promotion or something along those lines.  It’s a pretty standard combination of ingredients and a no-fuss recipe to make.

Here’s my tried-and-true method for making it (with thanks to cousin Pita for the original inspiration!):

popperPut about 4 quarts of popped corn (which I make in my trusty Whirley-Pop popper) in 2 large shallow baking dishes (I use the bottoms of broiler pans).

caramelIn a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter (I use unsalted) and 1/4 cup light corn syrup and set over medium heat. Stir gently as the ingredients melt and blend. When it comes to a boil, time for 5 minutes and stir almost constantly. Take the pan from the heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda; the mixture will puff up and lighten in texture (good reason to not use a small saucepan). Fun culinary science going on, I wonder if Alton Brown has tackled this recipe on Good Eats!?

Pour the caramel over the popcorn in as even a fashion as you can. It’s rather pouring caramelgloppy at this point, but don’t worry. Stir to coat as much popcorn as you can (the popcorn invariably flips out of the pans; be prepared with clear counter space to easily retrieve it). Put the pans in a 250 degree F oven for 1 hour. Every 15 minutes, take the pans out and gently stir to distribute the caramel, including scraping up what’s stuck to the bottom of the pan. Switch pan positions at each interval.

popcornWhen done, let the caramel corn cool in the pans but stir every couple minutes to avoid the caramel corn bonding with the pan. Do your best to not eat one whole pan’s worth in the first half hour. I dare you.

This recipes makes for about 2 to 1 popcorn-to-caramel ratio. If you want more caramely corn, I’m sure a double batch of the caramel will easily do the job. I’m happy with this version, since my sweet tooth is a small one.finished

Although I’d always made the recipe in its pure and basic form, this is an ideal platform for variations. The one new twist I did yesterday was tossing French sea salt on the caramel corn after its last turn in the oven. Outstanding! You can certainly vanilla extract and any number of spices (from cinnamon and nutmeg to cardamom and cayenne) to the caramel mixture, and toss nuts with the popcorn and caramel. Maybe toasted coconut? Now that I’ve dug up this recipe again, I may have to do some experimenting.

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