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.
- 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:
- Put oil in a 5-quart stainless steel pot over medium heat.
- Add 4 corn kernels and wait until they pop, about 3 minutes, then remove.
- Add remaining kernels, cover the pot, and shake to coat with oil.
- Continue cooking and shaking until the noise dies down and corn has fully popped, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, until the steam subsides, about 5 minutes.
- Measure 1¾ ounces (7 rounded cups) popcorn into a gallon zip-top bag, and reserve extras for snacking.
- Wipe the pot clean with a paper towel; it’s now a perfectly greased container for candy making!
- Return portioned popcorn to the pot, but keep the bag for later.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Meanwhile, lightly grease an aluminium baking sheet. Measure salt and baking soda into one ramekin and peanuts in another.
- When the syrup comes to temperature, remove from heat, set thermometer aside, and stir in salt/baking soda with a heat-resistant spatula.
- Once the syrup begins to foam, add peanuts and stir until well coated.
- Immediately pour over warm popcorn and fold until well coated.
- Scrape onto the prepared baking sheet, pulling chunks of popcorn into bite-sized clusters with a pair of forks.
- Cool until the candy shell is hard and crisp, about 45 minutes.
- Transfer popcorn to the zip-top bag and store for up to 2 weeks at room temperature.
Mix it up!
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.
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.
WHITE CHOCOLATE BUTTERSCOTCH:
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: http://wwnorton.co.uk/books/9780393239867-bravetart.