Storm the Cassoulet

Crunchy Caramel Popcorn

on October 7, 2013

crackerjack

Makes 10-12 cups

What You Need

Ingredients
1/2 cup unpopped corn kernels (10-12 cups popped)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Optional extras, see Recipe Variations (below)

Equipment
Large lidded saucepan
Large heatproof mixing bowl
2-quart saucepan
Heatproof spatula
2 baking sheets
Parchment paper or silpats

Method:

Gather ingredients and equipment. Arrange two oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 250°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment or silpats. Once you start making the caramel sauce, everything comes together quickly so have all the ingredients and equipment you need handy.

Make the popcorn. Warm 3 corn kernels and the oil in a large lidded saucepan over medium heat. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the corn kernels to the pan, shake to coat with oil, and put the lid on the pan. Pop the corn, shaking the pan occasionally, until the popping slows. Empty the popped corn immediately into a large heat-proof bowl. This makes about 10 cups of popcorn; make the popcorn in two batches if your pan is not large enough.

Make the caramel sauce. Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Mix in the sugar until the sugar is completely moistened. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, boil for 3-4 minutes while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan continuously. (Boil for a minute less if cooking on an electric stove.)

The exact cooking temperature isn’t critical with this recipe, but ideally you want the sugar mixture to reach between 250°F and 300°F. The longer you cook the syrup, the crunchier it will be. For very crunchy popcorn (my favorite!), stop cooking when you see the first wisps of smoke coming from the sugar mixture.

Add the vanilla, salt, baking soda, and any extras. Off the heat, add the vanilla, salt, baking soda, and any extras, and stir until combined. The sugar mixture will bubble up violently. Continue stirring until you form a thick, glossy sauce.

Combine the carmel sauce and popcorn. Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn while stirring the popcorn (it helps if you have a partner for this step — one person pouring while the other stirs the popcorn). Continue stirring the sauce into the popcorn until all of the kernels are coated.

Bake the caramel popcorn. Divide the popcorn between two baking sheets, spreading the popcorn out into an even layer. It’s ok if the popcorn clumps together. Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes and breaking up any clumps.

Let cool completely. Let the popcorn cool completely on the baking sheets. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Recipe Notes:

Recipe Variations:
Salted Caramel Popcorn: Increase the amount of salt to 1 teaspoon and sprinkle the baked popcorn with sea salt while it’s still warm from the oven.
Cracker Jacks: Add 2 tablespoons of molasses to the sugar mixture as it boils and mix in 1 cup peanuts when combining the caramel sauce and popcorn.
Spicy Caramel Popcorn: Add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or 2-3 tablespoons Sriracha or other hot sauce to the caramel sauce along with the vanilla.
Curried Caramel Popcorn: Add 1-2 teaspoons curry powder to the caramel sauce along with the vanilla.

Popcorn Balls or Clusters: To make popcorn balls or clusters, quickly press the popcorn together with buttered hands after the popcorn is finished baking and before it cools. If the popcorn cools too much to stick together, put the trays back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Getting Rid of Unpopped Kernels: To get rid of unpopped kernels before making the caramel popcorn, pour the popcorn into a large bowl and shake it a few times so the kernels fall to the bottom. Then use a measuring cup to scoop the popped popcorn into a second bowl, leaving the kernels behind.

ALTERNATE CARAMEL RECIPE:

BEST SALTED CARAMEL

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar…
1 2/3 cups heavy cream (WARM IT IN THE MICROWAVE FIRST)
2 Tbsp salted butter
3/4 tsp coarse sea salt

Method:

Method to make the caramel sauce:

Spread the sugar in an even layer in a large metal pot, at least 6 quarts. Set over a moderate heat and cook without stirring, until the sugar near the edge just starts to liquify.

Use a wooden spoon and begin stirring, encouraging the melted sugar around the edges toward the center, delicately stirring up any sugar melting on the bottom as well. The sugar will start to look pebbly as it cooks, but keep going until it is melted completely and an amber color. If you think it is cooking too fast, lower the heat and keep stirring. Be patient.

Continue to cook until the sugar turns deep brown. Once brown, take it off of the heat!!!!

Time to add the cream but here is my trick….only add a DROP at a time and stir, stir, stir. This will eliminate the seizing of your caramel and you will love me for this trick. Keep adding a drop at a time and stirring until all of the cream is mixed in. Be patient…you have a lot of cream so this will take a few minutes. Once smooth, add butter and salt. Let cool. Will store in fridge up to one month.  Makes 2 cups

Serve vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and some of the popcorn.  Add sea salt.  Or try the 2nd Street Creamery Copper Kettle Caramel ice cream.

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