Friday, October 24, 2014

Homemade Cracker Jack® Caramel Corn

Before I talk about this addictive Caramel Corn (which is easier to make than I thought it would be), I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have prayed for me, and wished me well in my surgery #5 on my knee. The great news is that this one was successful. My brilliant surgeon was able to remove enough scar tissue so that my knee is actually bending! I almost cried, the first time I could actually sit in chair, with both feet on the floor, to eat my hospital lunch.  I'm on medical leave for a few weeks, so that I can be a model patient, by doing my physical therapy several times a day. I can finally appreciate the benefit of having a total knee replacement, and there are no regrets. Amen.

As a kid, I loved Cracker Jack®.  I would load up my hand with a heaping mound of candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize... (remember that jingle?) Oh, and back then, the prizes could be as fun as a real plastic whistle.  Nowadays, the prizes are less choke hazards made of paper, and just not the same.  Still, I admit that I've been known to toss in a bag of Cracker Jack® into my grocery cart, during a weak moment, that I see them clipped onto a grocery store shelf.

Craig and I enjoy sharing a big bowl of popcorn, while we watch a movie at home-- Kettle Corn being our favorite.  For years, I've toyed with making caramel corn but I never got around to it. 

Recently, I decided to buy a Whirley Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper.  The first time I used this, I was smitten.  The popcorn tastes like real theater popcorn!  Tastewise, I prefer using coconut oil, vs. vegetable oil.  But either one is fine. Not only was it easy to use, it was fun and a lot easier than shaking a pot back and forth. In 3 minutes, we enjoyed a big bowl of popcorn. All I have to do is wipe the pot with a paper towel (no soap and water) and I wash the lid with the popcorn stirrer with soap and water. Easy peasy!

I looked at a lot of recipes on the internet, for Homemade Cracker Jack®.  The common theme was, the ratio of molasses vs. corn syrup.  Using the Whirley Pop, 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels made just over 15 cups of popcorn in three minutes!  Craig was on the sidelines, happily eating the extra popcorn that was exceeded 15 cups.

Making the caramel was pretty easy.  In a sauce pan, I added butter, brown sugar, molasses, and corn syrup and then brought it to a boil, for about five minutes. I made sure to stir, occasionally.

I like to use a candy thermometer, as a guideline. After five minutes, the syrup had reached a temperature of almost 234 degrees, which is the "softball stage" for candy makers.  At that point, I remove the pot from the heat, added pure vanilla and then added baking soda. As you can see, the caramel becomes very foamy and light in color.

Because this mixture is very hot, I cannot emphasize enough to not be tempted to taste this, and to pour it over the popcorn and peanut mixture with great care!

You can see that I added peanuts to the popcorn, but you don't have to.  I used Spanish peanuts, but you can use dry roasted salted peanuts, if you prefer.

Combine the popcorn and caramel thoroughly, and then spread onto a parchment (or Silpat) lined mat. Bake at 200F for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

Next time, I will use a deep roasting pan, because I think it would be easier to stir the caramel corn.  Oh, and if you prefer a chewier caramel corn, then don't bake it!  I adapted this recipe from King Arthur Flour, and they note that if you leave out the baking soda, you can shape these into one-cup balls, inserting a Popsicle or lollipop stick.  That would be fun for Halloween, don't you think?

TASTING NOTES:  I've often wondered how long the commercial Cracker Jack® box has been sitting on the grocery store shelf. By making my own, I know it's freshly made.  My entire family loved this treat.  I stored it in an air tight container, and it was gone in just two days.  For Halloween or Christmas, these make great treats that people really appreciate. I hope that you do, too.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.

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Big Dude said...

Looks really good Debbie and can't remember the last time I had any - I like it with all those nuts.

Kate said...

This looks so much better than what comes in a box! Nice and fresh and covered with yummy caramel....just need the surprise.

Joanne said...

Yay for a successful surgery!! That is AWESOME news.

And double yay for caramel corn! I've been a little obsessed with it lately, so it's great to find a good recipe.

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

I'm so happy you are doing so well, Debby. I definitely see a trip to Germany in your future. I have made caramel corn in the past but its been ages. I should make a batch as a special treat for my grandkids...and for me!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

This certainly brought back memories and yes, I liked the little plastic toys waiting to be found. Happy that you are recovering well from your surgery.

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

Glad your knee is coming along. Good luck with the physical therapy.I love Cracker Jax and of course I need to make this!