Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Caramel Pecan Popcorn

A funny thing happened on the way to make Caramel Corn. I didn't have any light corn syrup. Seriously, how could I be out of light corn syrup. I always have some. Better put it on the grocery list. What I did have is 3 bottles of dark corn syrup. Why? Don't ask me. I must have forgot I had some and then bought more. Then I thought: "Can you make caramel corn with dark corn syrup?" Why not? Then dark caramel corn made me think of Pecan Pie. Mmmmmm, Pecan Pie! Wait . . . hold on . . . I'm getting an idea . . . Caramel Pecan Popcorn! Yes, I always have pecans. I double checked the freezer and there they were. So Caramel Pecan Popcorn it is!

Simple ingredients, I betcha you've got all this already: popcorn (and vegetable oil for popping), brown sugar, butter, dark corn syrup, baking soda, vanilla and pecans.

This is my very favorite popcorn popper. Yep, just a plain old stock pot with a lid. This one is about 3 quarts, maybe a bit more. It does the job beautifully.

I used 1/2 cup of popcorn and 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. This gave me just about 8 cups popped corn. Refer to the directions on the bag of popcorn to be sure. You can pop the corn however you like, air popper, microwave popper, whatever works. Be careful with the microwave popcorn in the bags, it will work but you want it as "unflavored" (or plain) as you can get it, so avoid the butter varieties. Bottom line is you need 8 cups of popcorn.

Spread the popcorn out on a rimmed 1/2 sheet pan. Make sure to pick through carefully and get all the unpopped kernels out, those will crack a tooth for sure. Then sprinkle the pecans evenly on top.

Over medium heat stir together the brown sugar, corn syrup and butter until the butter melts and the mixture starts to boil. Then boil, stirring gently, for 3-4 minutes or until it reads 255°F on a candy thermometer. Don't worry if you don't have a candy thermometer. I made this recipe about 50 times as a kid without the thermometer and it worked great, every time. Just set your timer for 4 minutes the very second it starts to boil and you'll be fine.

Take it off the heat and add the cream of tartar. I'm not technically sure what the cream of tartar does but it totally changes the texture and color of the hot sugar mixture. It gets really foamy and turns opaque. That's OK, it's supposed to do that. Then quickly but gently stir in the vanilla.

Now pour (or glob) the caramel over the popcorn. Then carefully toss the mixture around until about 80% of the popcorn is coated. Then say a silent prayer that your children were at school when you made this because you flung some of the hot caramel up onto your hand then screamed a couple of very un-ladylike words before running your hand under a cold tap. OK, so remember you are working with very hot, very sticky sugar. BE CAREFUL!

This is what it should look like. See, lots of white bits of popcorn showing. Don't worry if there doesn't seem to be enough caramel to coat each and every bit of popcorn. It will get there, trust me. Now pop it (Sorry for the cheeky pun!) into a 300°F oven for about 10 minutes.

Take it out of the oven and give it another good stir. The caramel will be much thinner now and will almost coat all the popcorn. Now back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

Check it at the 5 minute mark. If it looks like it's starting to get dark or burnt, take it out. If not, keep it in the over for another 5 minutes. It should look like the picture when it's done. Now let it cool completely on the pan. When it's cool, break it up into smaller pieces and store in a zipper bag or airtight container. Seriously the container won't matter because you'll probably end up eating it all right away. It's seriously addictive.

To be perfectly honest with you, this was the first time I made this. It was yummy. I love when you try something new and it works out. The dark corn syrup gives it a more "musky" flavor. That's really not the right word for it but it's the only one I can think of. It's just more intense and the pecans compliment it with a bit of bitter nuttiness. It doesn't really taste like pecan pie, but it does remind me of it. If you want to make plain caramel corn, just use light corn syrup instead of the dark and skip the pecans. Give it a try. . .

Caramel Pecan Popcorn
Makes approx. 9 cups

8 C. popped popcorn
1/2 C. chopped pecans
3/4 C. packed brown sugar
1/3 C. butter
3 T. dark corn syrup
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 300°F.
Spread the popcorn out on a rimmed 1/2 sheet pan. Pick through and remove all the unpopped kernels. Sprinkle pecans evenly over the popcorn.
In a medium sized saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until butter melts and mixture starts to boil. Continue to heat and stir until mixture reaches 255°F on a candy thermometer. Or about 4 minutes.
Remove from heat. Add soda and vanilla, stirring to combine.
Pour sugar mixture over popcorn and stir to coat.
Bake in a 300°F oven for 10 minutes, stir. Bake 5-10 minutes more, watching carefully that it doesn't start to burn.
Cool completely then break it up into smaller pieces and store in an airtight container.

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