in the last two years , i have attempted caramel corn at least half a dozen times with zero success. i was determined to tackle it this year, so much so that i added it to my 11 in 2011 list. first i burnt the popcorn (bad enough that have a pan dedicated to stovetop popcorn). then i mastered the popcorn and burnt the caramel. and the last few times, i mastered - or so i thought - the popcorn and the caramel, only to have it turn to sand once the popcorn was coated and cool enough to eat. the only thing worse than taking a big bite of sand coated popcorn, is a bite of actual sand.
so last week, while jason was away (and i could try every night until i got it right) i tackled it. not just once, but twice. in two days. on my first try.
i started the week, with amateur gourmet's caramel corn (glad to see i'm not the only one who had trouble tackling it), a dark caramel made with brown sugar. i really liked the flavor and while i was doing my caramel corn research (this time via google, instead of cookbooks), i found both deb and joy's recipes. i wasn't in the mood for spice (deb's version) and had a feeling the secret lied in the baking soda, absent from joy's version. so i put the two together and came up with the best of both world's: sweet & salty caramel corn.
which one is better? both jason and i loved the caramel corn made with brown sugar. the sweet & salty corn is good, it's just missing a little punch flavor the other corn gets from molasses in the brown sugar. next time i'm going to tone down the brown sugar a bit and add more salt to the butterscotch caramel corn recipe.
what's the secret to good caramel corn? honestly, i don't know, but my guess is the baking soda. once the baking soda is added, the caramel foams up - doubling in size - and becomes the consistency of shaving cream. the foam makes it a lot easier to coat the popcorn. and not burning the popcorn or caramel helps too.
robust butterscotch caramel corn
adapted from amateur gourmet
1 hour, makes 4 quarts
while i really enjoyed the flavor of dark brown sugar in this popcorn, next time i will try either all light brown sugar or a 50/50 mix of dark brown sugar and plain old granulated sugar, to make it a bit less molasses-ey.
1/3 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup of your favorite nuts (optional)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- preheat your oven to 250F. line two baking sheets or two 9x13" pans with nonstick spray and set aside. spray the inside of a large mixing bowl with nonstick spray.
- place the oil and popcorn in a large saucepan and cover (use a glass lid if you have it, so you can see what's going on with the popping). place over medium heat and wait for the first kernel to pop. when the first kernel pops, move the pan and keep it moving by sliding it back and forth until all the popcorn is popped. transfer to the mixing bowl and toss with the nuts, if using.
- in a medium saucepan, combine the butter, corn syrup, sugar, and salt and cook over medium heat. bring to a boil and boil without stirring for five minutes. remove from heat and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla (the mixture will foam up and be the consistency of shaving cream).
- pour the caramel over the popcorn and use a silicone spatula to evenly coat all the kernels. spread the corn onto the baking sheets or pans and bake for 40 minutes total, stirring every 10 minutes.
- let popcorn cool in the pans and store in an airtight container.
sweet & salty caramel corn
inspired by joy the baker, adapted from smitten kitchen
45 minutes, makes 2 quarts
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- lightly coat a large baking sheet or 9x13" pan and a very large mixing bowl with cooking spray. set aside.
- place the oil, popcorn, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan and cover (use a glass lid if you have it, so you can see what's going on with the popping). place over medium heat and wait for the first kernel to pop. when the first kernel pops, move the pan and keep it moving by sliding it back and forth until all the popcorn is popped. transfer to the mixing bowl.
- in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 cup water. cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes very light caramel color, about 10 minutes. remove from heat and whisk in the baking soda (the mixture will foam up and be the consistency of shaving cream).
- pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and use a silicone spatula to evenly coat all the kernels.
- transfer the coated popcorn to the baking sheet or pan and spread into smaller pieces using the spatula. stir the popcorn around frequently until cool, about 15 minutes.
- store cool popcorn in an airtight container.