Foodie Friday – Homemade Cracker Jack

Foodie Friday – Homemade Cracker Jack

It may not come with a decoder ring, but homemade caramel corn is a crackerjack prize of its own: crispy popcorn and crunchy peanuts coated in a crackly caramel shell. It’s real caramel, too, salty-sweet and just a little buttery. This recipe uses only a handful of peanuts so each one’s a happy discovery, but the amount can be doubled if you prefer.

Homemade Cracker Jack image Main


  • 2 tablespoons | ¾ ounce refined coconut oil or other neutral popping oil
  • ¼ cup | 2 ounces yellow popcorn kernels
  • ⅓ cup | 2½ ounces water
  • ⅓ cup | 4 ounces light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons | 1½ ounces unsalted butter or refined coconut oil
  • 1¼ cups | 9 ounces sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal  kosher salt
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ cup | 4 ounces salted dry-roasted peanuts

Key Point: Because of their unique pH, honey, sorghum, and molasses cannot be used in this recipe.

Makes nine 1-cup servings


Temperature Note: This recipe depends on an accurate digital thermometer, and if things go wrong you can bet the readings were off. Check your thermometer by making sure it reads 212°F in a pot of boiling water.

Pop the corn:

  1. Put oil in a 5-quart stainless steel pot over medium heat.
  2. Add 4 corn kernels and wait until they pop, about 3 minutes, then remove.
  3. Add remaining kernels, cover the pot, and shake to coat with oil.
  4. Continue cooking and shaking until the noise dies down and corn has fully popped, 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, until the steam subsides, about 5 minutes.
  6. Measure 1¾ ounces (7 rounded cups) popcorn into a gallon zip-top bag, and reserve extras for snacking.
  7. Wipe the pot clean with a paper towel; it’s now a perfectly greased container for candy making!
  8. Return portioned popcorn to the pot, but keep the bag for later.
  9. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, heat to 170°F, and place popcorn inside to keep warm; this will ensure a thin, even candy coating.

Make the candy coating:

  1. Combine water, corn syrup, butter, and sugar in a 3-quart stainless steel saucier over medium heat, and stir with a fork until bubbling, about 4 minutes.
  2. Increase to medium-high, clip on a digital thermometer, and cook, without stirring, until the clear syrup develops a toffee colour and registers 345°F, about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly grease an aluminium baking sheet. Measure salt and baking soda into one ramekin and peanuts in another.
  4. When the syrup comes to temperature, remove from heat, set thermometer aside, and stir in salt/baking soda with a heat-resistant spatula.
  5. Once the syrup begins to foam, add peanuts and stir until well coated.
  6. Immediately pour over warm popcorn and fold until well coated.
  7. Scrape onto the prepared baking sheet, pulling chunks of popcorn into bite-sized clusters with a pair of forks.
  8. Cool until the candy shell is hard and crisp, about 45 minutes.
  9. Transfer popcorn to the zip-top bag and store for up to 2 weeks at room temperature.

Mix it up!

Buttered Pecan:

Replace peanuts with a half batch (heaping ½ cup, 3 ounces) of Brown Butter Pecans, prepared according to the recipe on page 345.

Little Piggy Popcorn:

I’m allergic to pork, but I’ll risk it once a year for a handful of this sweet-savoury popcorn. Replace the oil and butter with an equal amount of bacon drippings and proceed as directed. In addition to the peanuts, stir in 3 ounces (1 cup) crumbled bacon.

Maple Cinnamon:

This version isn’t as delicately crisp, as maple syrup is prone to crystallization—but in a good way, delivering some big-time crunch. After measuring the freshly popped corn, toss with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Replace the corn syrup with an equal amount of grade B maple syrup, but otherwise, proceed as directed. The syrup will foam more than the basic recipe, but will not overflow a 3-quart pot.


This rich, mellow variation has a pronounced vanilla aroma that reminds me of butterscotch. Omit the butter. While the syrup simmers, melt 3 ounces (½ cup) finely chopped 30% white chocolate. Stir in just before the baking soda and salt.

BraveTart is published by W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., £28.00, recipes by Stella Parks, photography by Penny De Los Santos. Available to purchase here:


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