Making candy can be a little scary. I feel like I never use candy thermometers correctly – and candy is soooo sensitive to temperatures that being only a couple of degrees off can be the difference between delicious bonbons and a waste of ingredients (and money). It seems safer to just avoid it altogether.
I’ve been conveniently avoiding the Confections and Sweets chapter of Bobbette and Belle’s cookbook, but I’ve had my eye on a few recipes (including the Fleur de Sel Caramels, which I WILL make one day – a local baker sells her version at seasonal craft fairs and they are delicious but very expensive, so I need to learn how to DIY).
Finally, I found the perfect excuse to dip into the chapter. I had a Halloween night with a few girlfriends (centered around the classic – and timeless, as we discovered – film, Hocus Pocus) and one of them had mentioned some tasty seasonal treats, including caramel corn.
I remembered that the Bobbette & Belle book had a recipe for caramel corn, so I offered to bring some. Bonus: the recipe doesn’t require a candy thermometer.
I’ve made poppycock before (which is caramel corn with mixed nuts – absolutely delectable), but never just straight caramel corn. I was pleased to find out that it’s actually very easy.
The first step involves making 15 cups of popcorn. If you’re reading this, I assume you’re not the type to use microwave popcorn (please, please don’t). You don’t need a fancy popcorn maker to make popcorn. I make mine on the stove top with a regular pot. I put some oil in it along with four kernels, crank the heat to medium-high, and wait until those four kernels have popped. I then add the rest of the kernels (2/3 cup of kernels = 15 cups of popcorn), cover my pot with a screen top thing that my mom got me eons ago (thanks, mom!), and shake lightly. I don’t shake non-stop, but I do it pretty frequently to let the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom.
Once the kernels are popped, it’s time to make the caramel. Easy peasy: you melt butter + brown sugar + corn syrup + vanilla, let it get nice and bubbly (no mixing!), then add some baking soda and fleur de sel. The book calls for a “Rounded 1/4 teaspoon baking soda” – I have no idea what is meant by rounded, so I just used a regular 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. It also says “stir in the baking soda and fleur de sel and baking soda”, which amused me. An aside: the fleur de sel definitely has a presence in the final product. This is, after all, fleur de sel caramel corn, not regular caramel corn.
Here is where I assumed the recipe would end; but, in fact, there is one final step. You spread the caramel-coated popcorn onto a pair of baking sheets at bake them for an hour at 275 degrees. After it has cooled, you get the most delicious popcorn, each pieces coated in a light caramel shell. I kept mine in a sealed tupperware style bowl and served it the next day, and it didn’t get stale at all.
This caramel corn is superior to the stuff you get at Kernels. It’s really, really good – the recipe introduction says that they call it “crack corn” and their bakery, and I understand why. Caramel corn isn’t really filling in the way, say, cake is, so it’s easy to go back for “just one more handful” until there’s nothing left in the bowl.
This recipe is a keeper, folks.
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