Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Baking: Caramel Corn

I personally love those huge holiday tins filled with three different types of popcorn flavors: butter, cheese, and caramel. There were several Christmas mornings where each of us kids would receive our own large tub full of popcorn (mine was normally adorned with pictures of kittens snuggling next to a stack of presents). I always gobbled down the cheese and butter popcorn varieties rather quickly, but normally gave away the caramel corn. My brother Michael usually had his mouth open and stomach ready to engulf any leftovers I was willing to pass along. That kid was a bottomless tank. But we'll save the stories of him eating soggy leftover cereal and drinking curdled milk for another time...

Bottom line, I only like caramel corn when it is fresh and homemade. Or when it comes from the Boy Scouts - they have a couple different varieties that are pretty decent. I used to help Michael "The Bottomless Pit" Korson sell the stuff around our neighborhood when we were younger and often ended up ordering a few tins myself. Although, at nearly $14 bucks for a small tin, the purchase demolished nearly a months worth of savings from my paper route (paper kids really should form a union and demand more decent pay).

This recipe, while technically not a cookie or pastry, has been in our Christmas rotation for a couple years. It comes from my beautiful mother, who makes the greatest caramel corn I have ever eaten. We usually end up giving little decorative bags full of this stuff to neighbors and friends as Christmas gifts.

If you plan on doing that, you might want to make a double batch. It is extremely difficult to resist munching on this stuff.

Caramel Corn
from My Mom

7 quarts popped popcorn (28 cups)
2 cups dry roasted, salted peanuts
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 cups butter
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Place popcorn and peanuts in shallow baking pans. I normally use a large roasting pan - we have a ridiculously large one that can hold a 40 pound turkey. I don't know why we own it since we have never roasted anything that big...but it works great for this. Otherwise, those large, disposable aluminum baking pans work really well.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, salt, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil and let cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly and being sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda (the mixture will "poof" a bit).

Pour over the popcorn and stir. Don't worry too much about evenly coating it perfectly - it'll do that a little better after some time in the oven.

Bake 1 hour, stirring well every 15 minutes. When dried, break apart onto wax paper.


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