Thursday, October 15, 2009

Caramel Corn

Over the weekend, Mike and I took a trip up to Wisconsin to enjoy the changing colors and to have some fall fun with family. One stop on our trip was the Elegant Farmer, a farm, bakery, and local attraction in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. If you've never been up there, now is the time to go!

As I'm sure you might have guessed, they have apple and pumpkin picking and lots of fall family activities, but they also have a pretty killer farm store/bakery that you are sure to love. You may have seen the "Throwdown Episode" that Bobby Flay filmed there, challenging their famous Brown Bag Apple Pie. Their pie, topped with a shortbread crust and a hefty dose of homemade caramel, was the natural winner- you just can't beat those awesome flavors and textures.

We, of course, had to pick up a pie or two, as well as fresh cider, pumpkins, and a big jug of rainbow popcorn kernels. The colors of the popcorn were just so cheerful and I love making popcorn on my stovetop. The microwave baggies are such a pale imitation of a big pot of freshly popped corn! Usually, we eat it plain- no extra butter or salt because it is just so good on its own. The other day, though, I decided to try my hand at homemade caramel corn.

The task seemed simple enough- but it took me going through a few recipes to get it just right. I found that the traditional way was the best way- popping the corn, making the caramel, and then combining the two. Letting the caramel corn dry out in the low heat of an oven helped to keep it crispy. Once I got all the kinks worked out, it was so yummy that we offered little cellophane bags of it as a Thursday "Story Hour" special today at the restaurant.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
Generous 2/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon coarse or flaky sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

-Preheat oven to 200 degrees and prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat.
-Place the oil and 4 kernels of the popcorn in a deep pot.
-Heat over medium heat until at least two kernels pop. Once they pop, the oil will be hot!
-Add the remainder of popcorn kernels, give them a stir, and cover pot. The kernels will begin to pop.
-Shake pot intermittently until popping slows down.
-Remove from heat, and set aside for a moment while the last few kernels pop.
-Take the cover off the pot, give the popcorn a good stir, and spoon the kernels into a large, clean, paper grocery bag. Set aside. (Combining the popcorn and caramel in a bag makes the job way easier and less messy).
-In a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt.
-Heat over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.
-Once the mixture reaches a boil, do not stir! Allow it to boil for 5 minutes.
-Remove from heat and stir in baking soda completely. Mixture will foam slightly.

-Pour the caramel over the popcorn.
-Alternately stir/shake the popcorn until it is fully coated with the caramel. This is when the paper bag comes in really handy!
-Spread caramel corn over prepared sheet pan and bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes to break up clusters and ensure even baking.
-Remove from oven and spread on another sheet or parchment to cool.
-Once fully cool, store in an airtight container.

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