I made caramel corn yesterday, you would know if you went into my house because it smells like half the kitchen burned down…I was so worried about getting my caramel to the right temperature, I neglected to notice that the popcorn in the microwave had ceased to make any popping noises and just begun to produce smoke in the oven. This probably went on for 45 seconds, maybe a minute, when I started to smell the smoke. I opened the microwave and somehow, the smoke that was confined only to the microwave, now laid itself like a blanket over the entire kitchen. I had to run the charred popcorn bag under water to stop the smoke at its source and it was then that I realized the cute little window in our kitchen could also be functional to waft the smoke outside. Oops.
When I was younger, I thought popcorn was a really neat food. Not because of its ability to hold insane amounts of butter or to expand to 10x its original size in just a few minutes, but because I thought it was a thoughtful food…you know, like how chocolate chip cookies make you feel better when you’re sad or chicken noodle soup makes you feel stronger when you’re sick. Well my dad told me (during the phase of 4- or 5-year-old questions in the realm of “what is this?” “what does it do?” “why?” “why?” “why?”) that not to ever be afraid of the airbags, or any deployment of them because there’s popcorn in there! If someone gets in a situation where their airbags deploy, they’ll be just fine and they even have a snack to keep them from getting hungry while help arrives. This should have stirred more questions in me…how long does it take help to arrive? long enough to need a snack? But with this I was satisfied and for a long, long time gave popcorn the credit for being such a comfort food.
Today’s caramel corn came about because Hilary mentioned wanting caramel corn and I couldn’t find any fairs in Austin that would have the sweet treat to fill her desires but I could find a recipe. This recipe was really good. I would say I am not great with making caramel/candy/fudge etc., anything that requires heating to high, high temperatures in order to succeed, and therefore it is an overwhelming success that this project turned out at all. I would blame my usual foupas this on the candy thermometer. Oh candy thermometer, why are your tick marks so close together? How am I supposed to know when you reach 240*? You may just as well be at 200, or 250 and I would never know…until later, when my pumpkin fudge turns to sludge and never hardens, or when my English Toffee is grainy and falls apart.
Needless to say, this caramel corn turned out great and I would accredit it to my newfound patience for temperatures and use of the alternative method to the candy thermometer: this caramel is to reach 250*F, you know that the caramel hits the correct temperature on the candy thermometer, or, when you let a drip of hot caramel drip from your silicon or wooden spoon fall into a bowl of icewater and the caramel turns into a hard ball (this is hard-ball stage, as opposed to a soft-ball stage, that you would strive for when making something softer, i.e. peanut brittle would need to reach the hard-ball stage at 250-266*F, but peanut butter fudge would only need to reach soft ball stage at 235-245*F)
this is an easy recipe to make organic–all of the ingredients can probably be found in organic form at your local grocery store.
1.5 bags popped popcorn (about 15 loosely packed cups)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup regular sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 cups salted peanuts (optional)
Heat oven to 225°F.
Place popcorn in 2 9×13 pans; set aside.
Combine brown sugar, sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and vanilla in a thick-bottomed, 2-quart saucepan.
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a full boil.
Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until candy thermometer reaches 250°F or small amount of mixture dropped in ice water forms a hard ball (about 12 to 14 minutes).
Remove from heat
Carefully pour hot mixture over the popcorn in a large roasting pan. (If you would like peanuts with your popcorn, sprinkle the salted peanuts over the caramel sauce at this point.)
Using a wooden spoon, stir until all popcorn is coated.
Place in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, stir to more evenly coat the popcorn with the caramel sauce.
Return to oven. Continue cooking for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven. Let cool completely. Break into bite-sized pieces. Store in tightly covered container.