Saturday, November 30, 2013

peanut-caramel corn (aka homemade cracker jacks)

I haven't fallen off my vegan wagon but I've been wanting to post about this childhood favorite since the World Series. Up until about 3 weeks ago, I would whip up a batch of this peanut-caramel corn (aka Cracker Jacks) almost every weekend. Sadly I am on a dairy hiatus and I did make a fresh batch yesterday, but none of it was for me.

I discovered this recipe for homemade Cracker Jacks on Brown Eyed Baker's blog. I followed the recipe straight forward the first couple of times I made it, and then sometimes I used dark brown sugar instead of light brown, and kosher salt in place of regular salt. You'll need a candy thermometer to make the caramel and some patience while you wait for the caramel corn to cool. This recipe makes up to 10 cups of peanut-caramel corn which makes a great homemade Christmas gift or two.

Peanut-Caramel Corn (aka Cracker Jacks)
thank you BROWN eyed BAKER
makes up to 10 cups

***Brown Eyed Baker has a foolproof recipe for popping popcorn. Although you can easily use microwave popcorn but honestly her method for popping corn is so easy. Trust me.***

10 cups of freshly popped popcorn - stovetop or microwave
1 cup light brown sugar ***dark brown sugar is OK too!***
1/4 cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup lightly salted & roasted peanuts

a candy thermometer 

Preheat oven to 250ºF. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. ***I prefer using a Silpat mat here. But parchment works fine too.***

Pop the corn. Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray and transfer the popcorn to the bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan, mix together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer, stirring often (I use the candy thermometer to stir), until the mixture reaches 250ºF on a candy thermometer, about 3 - 5 minutes. ***Time will always vary depending on how high your heat is and how accurate your thermometer is. Sometimes it took my caramel 7+ minutes to reach the desired temp.*** 

Turn off heat and mix in the vanilla and baking soda. ***Again I just mix with the candy thermometer.*** The caramel is HOT and it will bubble like crazy when you're mixing in the vanilla extract and baking soda. Don't be scared and BE CAREFUL!!!

Immediately pour the hot mixture over the popcorn. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the caramel into the popcorn until all of the popcorn is coated. Gently stir in the peanuts and divide the mixture to the prepared baking sheets, spreading it out evenly. ***You can also use 1 baking sheet here, but I found that dividing the mixture into 2 sheets resulted in a crispier caramel corn.***

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes or until completely cool. Gently break up the popcorn. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 5 - 7 days.

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