I have two questions: Why have I never made caramel corn before?! Why did I have to go and make caramel corn?!
It is always a little dangerous to figure out the things you're capable of in your own kitchen.
Caramel corn isn't something I buy, it isn't something I think about, it isn't something I crave. I couldn't even tell you when the last time I had it was - though I'd be willing to bet I was still wearing braces and that the caramel corn came out of one of those tins with three flavors of popcorn in them that my school used to sell to raise money. Nothing good ever came out of one of those tins.
This caramel corn couldn't be more different.
I've been seeing different variations of caramel corn everywhere lately. Funny how food trends go. The recipe I used - or should I say, changed - is from a new book called DamGoodSweet, as seen on Orangette. I chose this one because it was basic, and could be altered easily enough so that my sons could eat it.
My version has no refined sugar in it - palm sugar has replaced the granulated, and agave was used instead of corn syrup. I also left out the nuts, because they are to difficult for the little guys to eat. I also upped the salt, because I wanted it to be more of a flavor than just a flavor enhancer. I just love sweet/salty treats!
I couldn't stop eating this caramel corn, it is so delicious. Fortunately, I only made 1/3 of the recipe. It is wonderfully crunchy, but not at all in a way that will break your teeth! It is sweet, and salty, and has an amazing rich caramel flavor from the palm sugar. It couldn't be easier to make, either. Is it too early to start thinking about Christmas, because this would make a great food gift!
I'd like to play around some with flavorings - different nuts, different spices - but for now, here is the basic recipe that is so good on its own, it really doesn't need any dressing up!
10 cups popped popcorn - I popped mine in ghee on the stovetop, but you can use any kind you like (if you use microwave, it will probably have added salt, so keep that in mind when salting yours)
1 cup palm sugar
1/4 cup light agave
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (measure this before you start cooking your caramel)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (measure this before you start cooking your caramel)
Preheat oven to 250. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Place popped popcorn in large greased bowl, set aside. Combine palm sugar, agave, butter, salt and water in medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently until the mixture reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove pan from heat, and immediately add the baking soda and vanilla and whisk to combine. Quickly pour caramel over popcorn, and using a rubber spatula, stir to coat all of the popcorn evenly. Be gentle here, you want the popcorn to remain whole. Pour the popcorn onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it evenly. Bake for 1 hour, stirring, turning and re-spreading the popcorn every 20 minutes. At this point, you can take a little taste and see if it is salty enough for you. I sprinkled some coarse sea salt on mine, and I highly recommend it! Let cool on rack for 20 minutes, then gently break apart and serve! You may store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 5 days, but I doubt it will last that long!