Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Caramel corn

I'm going to post a few recipes over the next couple of days, because I have a small backlog piling up here. And why post them all at once when I can spread them over several posts and not overload you all at once? Cooking and baking are things I do to procrastinate, even to avoid writing blog entries, say, so I figure, heck, I'll turn that sucker right back on itself and show it who's boss. Uhm, by which I mean, me?

First up, we have Caramel Corn. I made this for work a few weeks back and it was quite a success. The recipe could easily be halved if you don't have a ginormous bowl around. I found it in the Joy of Cooking, 75th anniversary edition. I've only got three copies of the Joy so far, and I'd like at least four, maybe six... My other two are both from circa 1950, one from a used book store and one that was my Grandmother's (I'm very happy to have the latter, as well as her recipe box!). You see where my interest in cooking and booking overlap here: collecting cookbooks is a fantastic hobby. A bunch of mine are in my LibraryThing collection.

Caramel Corn

3/4 cups unpopped popcorn
corn/canola oil
1.5 tbl unsalted butter
1.5 cups light brown sugar
6 tbl H2O

1. To pop the popcorn, put a few (three) kernels in the bottom of a large pot (needs to hold 6 cups of popped popcorn) and just cover them with a layer of the oil, making sure it's distributed evenly across the bottom of the pot. Turn heat to high and wait for the oil to heat up. When all three kernels have popped (watch out for spraying hot oil), pour in the rest of the popcorn and put a lid on it. While waiting for it to pop, hold both pot handles and shake the kernels to make sure all of them are exposed to the heat and none of them stay in one place long enough to burn. It is possible to do this just above the burner so the oil keeps getting hotter. This process took me a few tries to learn, so you might want to try a smaller batch, first. The balance of heat and oil is delicate; too much direct heat and it burns, too much oil and it's greasy. You can also caramelize "airpop" popcorn, but I haven't tried it. Remove from heat when popping slows.

2. Lightly salt the top of the popcorn in the pot, then pour into large bowl and salt again, toss to coat.

3. To make the caramel, melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the sugar and water. Heat should be mediumish, whatever it takes to create just some loose bubbles around the edges of the sugar. Put a lid on for a few minutes to let the steam wash any sugar crystals off the sides of the pan. Cook to 234F, the "soft ball stage."

4. Carefully and slowly, pour the caramel over the popcorn, stirring as you go. Try not to get it on the sides of bowl, but cover as much popcorn surface area as you can initially, as it cools fast. Keep stirring until the caramel stops moving to new kernels.

5. Spread the popcorn out on cookie sheets to cool. Once it's at a comfortable temperature to handle, break the bunches of popcorn apart with your fingers, down to bits an inch big or smaller.

6. When completely cool, pack it up in bags, containers, or put it back in the bowl and share with party guests. I consider this recipe seriously easy and seriously tasty. Would make good party munchies along with my spicy caramel almonds recipe (which I'll have to find again...).

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