It must be the fact that I am seeing all the fall pumpkins and gourds in the stores that make me want to make fall treats. Or maybe it is all the great ideas I have been seeing on other people’s blogs. It certainly isn’t the weather, which has been in the 90s all week. Last night I wanted to make something sweet and crunchy, and when I saw several blog posts about caramel corn in the same week I knew that was exactly what I had been craving. The recipe I used, from Sugar Cooking, warned that it would be addictive, and it sure is. I kept going back for just “one” more handful throughout the evening. I only made half a recipe, but it keeps quite well so this is a great treat to make to share with a large group. It is also a great thing to include when mailing homemade treats, because the caramel corn can be used as filler in the box to pad whatever else you are sending. To add a bit more seasonal flair, toss in a handful of candy corn once the popcorn has cooled.
Making caramel corn also gives me a chance to mention one of my new favorite things. Microwave popcorn. No, not the kind with all the fake butter, but all natural do-it-yourself microwave popcorn. I had been buying organic all natural microwave popcorn, the kind with only corn as a ingredient, for quite a while. I can then add my own mix-ins and there are no weird chemical smells lingering in my microwave for days. Well, a few months back I read an article about microwave popcorn by Mark Bittman that sent me reeling. It turns out that there is nothing special about the bags microwave popcorn comes in. Plain kernels of corn, the kind you buy for stovetop popping, placed in a plain paper bag in the microwave pop just as well. No plastic packaging. Just popcorn plain and simple. I reuse lunch sized bags, pour in a 1/2 cup or so of kernels, fold the bag over a few times to keep them from opening, and pop away. For the caramel corn I tried popping a larger batch by using a large bag from the grocery store, since the recipe calls for quite a bit. That turned out to be a bad idea. It started smoldering and caught fire before the kernels popped. It made for some excitement, that’s for sure, but I would recommend popping the corn in batches instead.
adapted from Sugar Cooking
7 quarts plain popped popcorn
2 cups dry roasted peanuts (optional)
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.Make popcorn and place in a very large bowl or pot (or 2 large bowls). It can also be mixed in a large doubled paper bag.
Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, margarine and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring enough to blend. Once the mixture begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will be light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn in the bowls or bag. Stir to coat.
Bake for 1 hour, removing the pans, and stirring well every 15 minutes. After it has baked separate into pieces if need. Allow to cool completely, then store in airtight containers or resealable bags.