Monday, February 6, 2012

Things You Like if You Like Sugar: Caramel Corn

We have dinked around with various recipes for Caramel Corn over the years, mostly in an effort to reduce the amount of butter that goes into the caramel. And therein lies the rub: caramel is sugar and butter. You cannot so much reduce it. This is how I ended up becoming a fan of kettle corn:  you get the sweet and salty and no butter.

Anyway,  I decided yesterday was the right time to try a David Lebovitz recipe for Caramel Corn. It was that witching hour of late afternoon (otherwise known as tea time) when the weary, the down-trodden, those with hope but not expectation, circle the kitchen in earnest pursuit of a little smackerel of something.

There has arisen a demand for transparency regarding food prepared in-house. The table where my children convene to complete homework and assault one another over rights to the laptop is right outside the kitchen. When I pass them to enter the kitchen they turn on me (I'm sure I'm not the first mom to honestly appreciate being ganged up on since it affords my children the rare moment to side with one another) with questions, then complaints, about what I'm intending to cook. Yesterday was different. When "Caramel Corn" was announced there was a moment where Likelihood of Truth was considered, then a scramble of chairs and legs to be on hand to help.

This Caramel Corn was pretty much wonderful, and one step removed from a recipe I posted a couple of years ago.  We followed DL's directions verbatim for the syrup but parted with him on popcorn popping method. We make a lot of popcorn and take the advice of no man on how to pop it.  One thing I'm looking forward to this summer is figuring out the best way to dry an ear of corn. We were splurging on dried ears at the Green City Market once in a while last summer. At home, we'd stick one in a paper lunch bag in the microwave where, after a few minutes of zapping, it would produce a small mountain of popped corn - way more than I would assume was a single serving and yet how could one ear of corn not be a single serving?

Caramel Corn 
Adapted from David Lebovitz (who adapted it from Epicurious)

A candy thermometer

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
1½ cups packed brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
OPTIONAL: 1 cup salted peanuts, or toasted almonds, pecans, or cashews.

Add oil and popcorn kernels to a large pot and set over medium high heat. When the kernels start to pop, lower the heat a bit and stay close. It will take about 3-4 minutes for all the kernels to pop. Listen for when popping slows down, then turn off the flame. Remove from heat and uncover. Transfer to a large bowl.

Alternately, skip all that and pop 1/2 cup kernels in an air popper.

Spray a large mixing spoon and baking sheet with baking release or coat with butter. Set aside.

Melt butter in a 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt and stir to combine. Set a candy thermometer inside the pot. Bring to a boil and allow to boil without stirring until syrup registers 300 degrees F on thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, stir vanilla and baking soda into the syrup, then quickly pour over popcorn in the mixing bowl. Gently toss the popcorn with the buttered spoon until it is evenly coated.

Transfer to the sheet pan and allow to cool.

Here you have a choice: While still warm, form into popcorn balls. Or, allow to cool completely, then break into small clumps.

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