I’ll admit I have no particular reason for making caramel corn, and I wouldn’t even say I’m a fan, but I am a fan of Orangette, and since reading Molly’s heartfelt and desperate ranting plea to make caramel corn, including the revelation, “It was eerily light, crisp and snappy, sweet-salty, insane,” I decided this would be my first recipe to try from her blog, which is actually adapted from the cookbook DamGoodSweet.
Oh, what a delicious amen! I must shout out to Molly, for I could become a serious caramel corn addict after initiating my sweet tooth to this primo confection (I admit I’ve already stocked up on popcorn and salted peanuts since the first batch is mysteriously, um…gone). You pop your corn and cook your caramel on the stove top, mix it all together with chopped salted peanuts, and bake it all for an hour, allowing the caramel to soften and become better intermingled, and transforming the popcorn itself from a crunchy snack into a crisp decadence.
When I was talking to my mom on the phone over Easter, she reminded me of her extreme caramel corn lust, but expressed scorn for the corn being mixed with peanuts. I understood her mistrust, having also been subjected to those bitter red-skinned goobers nestled in Cracker Jack. In this recipe, however, the salt on the skinless peanuts is a vital and necessary component, and when it’s all baking in the oven, your kitchen fills with a scent of hot peanut butter . . . oh, it’s yummy.
But don’t be dismayed if nuttiness isn’t your thing. This recipe is not about the nuts…you’re definitely getting caramel corn here. The peanuts are very much an accent in the background (until you get to the caramelized bits at the bottom of the bowl!) The only caveat is that you must have a candy thermometer to make this. But you already have one, don’t you?
This makes a great gift . . . for yourself. Indulge often.
Caramel Corn with Salted Peanuts
1 (3½-oz) pkg natural flavor microwave popcorn, or however much you need to pop for 10 cups, lightly salted
1 c. packed light brown sugar
¼ c. light corn syrup
6 T. unsalted butter, melted
¼ t. salt
2 T. water
½ t. baking soda
2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. lightly salted peanuts, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 250°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pop the popcorn and dump into a large bowl (I used my wok, which was perfect), taking care to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels. Chop your peanuts and measure out your vanilla and soda, since you won’t have time to do it once you begin making the caramel.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer, whisking often, until the mixture reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. . . the mixture will suds up and become a creamy, excited caramel. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can.
Stir in the peanuts, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool for 20 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn, serve, and store in an airtight container.