Let’s suppose, for a moment, that your upcoming weekend involves a little bit of football (that’s American football for my international friends). Maybe catching a game between, say, the Seahawks and the Broncos. Maybe you’ll be watching from the comfort of your own home, or maybe you are lucky enough to have a friend with a 65″ plasma TV and really comfy couch who’s invited you over on Sunday. And maybe there will be some noshing before, during and possibly after the aforementioned game.
If any of the above are true — but most especially the noshing part — do I have a recipe for you.
It’s salted caramel popcorn with almonds, peanuts, cinnamon and a bit of cayenne pepper, and it’s so good that this is the first recipe in Stout Sprout history that has earned six out of a possible five stars from both the kids and the adults. That’s 12 stars on a scale of one to 10.
Impossible, you say? Try this recipe before casting judgement. I practically guarantee it will go faster than either the onion dip or chicken wings as part of your Super Bowl spread.
It’s easy, too. This version tastes exactly like that popular popcorn-and-peanut snack of baseball fame, only better. And fresher. And more addictive. As I jokingly said to my husband while trying unsuccessfully to walk away from yet another nibble, this recipe just might put the “crack” in Cracker Jack. (I crack myself up.)
That said, with some supervision and parental judgement it’s actually a good recipe to try with the kids. Daughter 1, her friend and I made this batch during a playdate at our house. We made several bags of popcorn using our magic popcorn trick method to total 16 cups, and then the girls measured the brown sugar, corn syrup and butter. I heated the caramel on the stove while they counted out the almonds and peanuts.
After adding the final flavorings and pouring the caramel over the popcorn and nuts, I made sure it had cooled to a non-burn-inducing temperature and gave the girls the opportunity to stir the mixture before I popped it in the oven to finish.
We sent some home with my daughter’s friend and later heard from her mom with a text that read “that popcorn was — yes, WAS — awesome.” It got completely eaten up. The next day I packaged some more in a Ziploc and handed it off at school pick up, feeling every bit the dealer. Only this stuff is, as far as I know, completely legal.
Even my husband has succumbed to its charms. He called this the best caramel corn he’s ever had…and that from a guy who practically grew up on the boardwalk where caramel corn rivals frozen custard as the epitome of Jersey Shore snacking.
Giving credit where it is due, we started with a Better Homes and Gardens recipe for Caramel Corn which we then altered to better suit our tastes. We upped the ratio of popcorn to caramel which effectively lowers the sugar and saturated fat content per 1-cup serving by a little bit. Be careful with this one — BHG says their version has 171 calories, 19 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of saturated fat per serving, plus a good bit of salt — and our version isn’t much better. We used unsalted almonds but also added some dry roasted peanuts, which admittedly aren’t the healthiest things in the world. But they are SOOOO good in here.
Then again, if nuts aren’t your thing, just omit them. This caramel popcorn is great on its own. Or, if you prefer something along the lines of roasted pumpkin seeds, add those instead. If you want your caramel corn spicier, add a little more cayenne. Or go a more savory route and add a sprinkle of cumin instead of the cinnamon.
This is a recipe that will call your willpower into question, but if you practice a degree of moderation by sticking to the 1-cup serving size (more or less…) it’s a great “sometimes snack.” You might even call it a super one, just right for Super Bowl snacking. Or a playdate. Your choice.
Salted Caramel Popcorn with Almonds, Peanuts, Cinnamon and Cayenne Pepper
16 cups of plain popped popcorn (from three batches made using the magic popcorn trick)
1 1/2 cups plain unsalted whole almonds
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts or plain roasted peanuts
1 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Between 1/8 and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on your heat tolerance (or more to taste)
Several pinches good-quality, small-flake sea salt or Kosher salt
Place oven rack in the lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Line an 11″ x 17″ rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat (like Silpat) or sheet of parchment paper. Set the baking sheet to the side.
Starting with the popcorn, remove any un-popped kernels and, in a large metal mixing bowl or roasting pan, combine the popcorn, almonds and peanuts. Place the mixing bowl in the oven to keep popcorn warm while you make the caramel.
Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in a deep-sided medium sauce pan over medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture comes to a boil. Allow the mixture to continue to boil at a medium rate without stirring for another five minutes, taking care that the mixture does not boil over. If it looks like it might, reduce the heat but keep at a slow boil.
When five minutes have passed, remove the sauce pan from the heat and add the baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon and cayenne pepper, stirring well with a heat-proof spatula. Be careful as the mixture will bubble up as you add these ingredients. (This is a job for a parent — the hot sugar mixture is like molten lava!)
Remove the mixing bowl with the popcorn in it from the oven and, working carefully, slowly pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and nuts and fold it in with the heat-proof spatula, making sure to coat all the popcorn kernels evenly. You may need to do this in several steps by pouring, mixing, pouring, mixing, etc. The caramel will cool as you stir but will remain quite warm so be careful.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture to break up large clumps and bake for another 10 minutes. Stir again, and bake for a final 10 minutes.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven, sprinkle lightly with the sea salt, and allow to cool completely (at least 30 minutes) before eating. The caramel will harden as it cools, audibly crackling for several hours after it comes out of the oven.
Store the caramel popcorn in an airtight container. It will keep for approximately one week, though our batch was gone long before that. Yum!
And a quick note about clean up. You might think that caramel is a bear to scrub from the sauce pan and mixing bowl, but if you use very hot water and let it soak for a bit the caramel comes right off. Too easy.
Kid rating: six stars out of a possible five. Now, it’s not hard to believe that a kid would like anything coated in caramel but this popcorn is especially good. Daughter 1 and her friend made it with me during their playdate and couldn’t wait to try it. When Daughter 2 got home from preschool she took a bite and went to play. And returned for another bite, and went to play. And returned for another bite. And then both girls asked for it for dessert after dinner. And then asked it they could have some the next morning before breakfast. I had to draw the line somewhere!
Parent rating: six stars. My husband was traveling when we made this and texted me saying “I don’t really like caramel corn but it looks like a fun kid project.” Then he got home and tried it. By his own admission he now likes caramel popcorn, or at least this version! And, I LOVE it. Can’t recommend this highly enough as easy and tasty, and fun!