2017-10-18 / Taste

Tricks to the treat

For salty and sweet, try homemade caramel corn

With Halloween around the corner, I find myself reminiscing about the days when, for one glorious night a year, I could dress up (which is still incredibly fun) and bring home a haul of delicious treats. As an adult I have broadened my sweet horizons to include more sophisticated desserts. Still, like smells, some flavors are rich with nostalgia, and there are childhood treats where one bite takes you back to the first time you had it. For me, that is caramel corn.

JENNY McQUEENJENNY McQUEENCaramel corn itself dates back to the 1890s. It is generally believed to have been presented to the public in Chicago by German immigrants Frederick and Louis Rueckheim. Legend says that upon trying the Rueckheim brothers’ sweet and salty snack, a friend exclaimed “That’s a crackerjack!” which was slang of the day for “That’s great stuff!” By 1896 Cracker Jack was a registered name and a household flavor. The iconic snack still features a strong molasses flavor and a mixture of nuts and popcorn, not to mention a golden treasure in the bottom of the box.

When I was growing up, we never had Cracker Jack; we had something even better. My mom would make caramel corn at home. Once we were old enough, she’d let me and my siblings help, which was, of course, the pinnacle of awesomeness for a 5-year-old. We’d snack on the salty popcorn while waiting for the caramel to boil and then never wait long enough for the mixture to cool, invariably resulting in burnt fingers. But it was totally worth it.

Caramel corn is surprisingly easy to make. It just takes a few steps, some space and patience.

Traditional Caramel Corn

5 quarts popped popcorn*
*Note: If you are popping corn yourself
in an air popper or on the stove, this will
be 2/3 cup of kernels. If you are using
microwave popcorn, make sure to get the
plain kind with no butter and no salt. Use
4 bags for this recipe.
2 sticks salted butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 ½ Tablespoons molasses
½ cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt, divided in half
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla

JENNY McQUEENJENNY McQUEENPreheat oven to 200 degrees. Using cooking spray, lightly grease 2 large, oven-safe casserole dishes and set aside.

Place the popped popcorn in a LARGE bowl. I have found that plastic works best, as the caramel won’t stick to the sides. Glass or ceramic are also good options.

In a medium, round-bottom saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup and ½ teaspoon salt. Place over medium high heat. Note: make sure to use a high-heat safe spatula to stir. Bring to a boil and continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes – no longer. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.

Pour evenly over popcorn and stir to combine. When popcorn is completely coated, pour mixture into the prepared baking dishes and sprinkle with the remaining salt.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before breaking into pieces.

Caramel corn is perfect for a scary movie snack or lunchbox, and I have definitely been known to stir it into my ice cream. A caramel apple coated in caramel corn brings an extra crunch. Or just hand the treat out to neighbors and make some new friends.

Adding extra ingredients will take a batch up a notch. Lay the caramel corn out on a baking sheet, drizzle with melted chocolate chips and cool in the fridge. The dark chocolate and sweet and salty caramel combine for perfect flavor. Or add nuts. Peanuts are a traditional favorite, but I also enjoy cashews and hazelnuts. If you like a kick, toss in a pinch of cayenne pepper, cinnamon or nutmeg when you add the baking soda.

Enjoy! ¦

Return to top