cartoon by marc johns.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Homemade Caramel Popcorn

The delicious, final product.
This is an awesome and super easy recipe. 
I recommend it you take with you for a snack at the movies or giving as a gift.  (It seems much more impressive than it actually is, so it's definitely a good gift.  Just put it in a nice, airtight container and tie some ribbon on!)  
This recipe makes about 20 cups of popcorn (which I know sounds like a lot, but you will blow through this right quick).  And 20 cups of popcorn is only 2 of those microwaveable popcorn bags, which makes it sound smaller, I think.
It takes about 15-20 minutes to prepare, and then about 1 hour in the oven.
Your Ingredients:
  • 20 cups of popped popcorn, which is 2 microwaveable bags, 3 or 3.5 ounces.  Make sure it is PLAIN popcorn.  No butter flavor, please!  (It is sometimes hard to find plain microwaveable popcorn.  If you can't, try to find one with as little salt as possible.  Or, of course, you could always pop fresh popcorn yourself.)
  • 12 tablespoons (a stick and a half) of melted, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup of light corn syrup
  • 2 cups of light brown sugar (pack down the sugar when you measure it out.)
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 5 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • Optional (if you want to make homemade Cracker Jack): 2 cups of lightly salted peanuts 
  • Optional: 2 cups of lightly salted any nut
  • Optional: 2 cups of lightly salted pretzels, broken into bits
Your first step is to preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.  Then pop the popcorn, according to instructions.  (Don't burn it!)
Next, put parchment paper on baking sheets.  (If the baking sheets have slight rims, that's good so the caramel won't drip onto your oven floor.)  And get a big bowl (it has to fit all the popcorn in it) and spray it with Pam or some other spray.  I use butter flavored Pam so the popcorn gets a little more flavor, but any cooking spray will do.  Put all the popped popcorn in the bowl. 
The popped popcorn!
Now, the fun part: 
(A tip: if your oven takes a while to heat up, wait to do this part because the caramel is very sticky and hardens fairly fast, so you don't want it sitting around while you wait for the next step.)
Over medium-high heat, whisk together the butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, water, and salt.  Bring to a small boil and continue to stir often.  Keep it at a simmer until your cooking thermometer (a candy thermometer is great, but any cooking thermometer works fine.  Candy thermometers are not normally at a grocery store, but meat ones are, so that's what I use.  I have a meat thermometer designated for non-meat foods) reads 220 degrees.  It normally takes me about 5 minutes.
Whisking in the melted butter.

Whisking the caramel and checking the temperature.
Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and baking soda.  When you add those ingredients (in particular the baking soda) the mixture will expand and bubble.  That's normal, just keep whisking until combined.
The expansion and bubbling of the caramel from the baking soda.
Pour mixture over the popcorn and mix.  Mix gently so that the popcorn doesn't break.  I use a rubber spatula that I also spray with Pam.
The caramel being stirred (gently) in.

If you'd like, now is the time to add the peanuts, other nuts, or pretzel bits.  Stir again.  (If you make Cracker Jack, you can eat it at the ball game).
I added peanuts to mine this time.
Put the mix on the baking sheets and spread it out.  The mixture is pretty sticky, so you don't want to wait to spread it on the sheets.
Spread out on the baking sheet.
Bake for 1 hour, stirring the popcorn around about every 20 minutes.  I stir it with the tip of a knife; I have found that to be the easiest way.  After you remove the popcorn from the oven, let it cool for 20 minutes or so.  Then break it up (gently).
Giant clump of popcorn.
Don't wait too long to try to break it apart or it'll be pretty difficult.  I recommend picking up the big clumps of popcorn and putting them in a gallon Ziploc bag.  Then break the clumps apart in the bag so you don't make a mess of your kitchen.

You may immediately eat and enjoy!  Or store in airtight containers for later.
Recipe adapted from the baking blog BrownEyedBaker.

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