When the leaves began to change color, I wanted to pick apples in the cool air. Last Sunday husband and I, kids, and the dog drove the country road to the old orchard. We set up our ladder under the branches of the best tasting one and loaded our buckets. Back at home I melted butter with sugar and boiled it to a caramel. We skewered a few apples, rolled them around in the pot, and set them aside to firm up. There was leftover caramel. My daughter and I decided to make caramel corn.
Treats that are part of a shared experience and tradition. Treats as they should be–homemade and available in limited quantities.
Amy’s Kitchen Coach Tips:
- Pop the popcorn on the stovetop. All you need is a pan with a lid, some peanut oil (or other neutral high-heat oil), and fresh popcorn kernels from the bulk bin at the grocery.
- Prevent unpopped kernels from getting into your caramel corn by using two large bowls: after a pan finishes popping, dump it into large bowl #1 then lift and transfer popcorn to bowl #2, leaving the unpopped kernels and husks behind. Once you have enough popcorn, discard the unpopped kernels and husks, wipe out the bowl with a paper towel, and divvy up the popcorn between the two bowls – makes for easier stirring once you pour on the caramel.
- Not all sugars are created equal. Try the specialty brown sugars from India Tree…actual flavor! Who knew?! I used the Light Muscovado and love the beautiful color and flavor. (Joe’s Parkway carries them at my request – thank you Tara!)
- Remember that you have less air pressure at altitude than at sea level, and this means water boils at a lower temperature (sea level boiling point is 212° and lowers 1° for every 500 feet elevation gain). This fact changes your candy making temperature targets as well, so soft ball in Bozeman (approx. 5000 ft elevation) is 224° – 230° instead of 234° – 240°. This High Altitude Candy Making Chart from Colorado State is a good reference.
- How to tell when the caramel corn is done baking: remove a few pieces from the oven and let them cool 30 seconds. Taste. If it’s crunchy, it’s done.
- 16 cups popped corn (be careful to remove any unpopped kernels, see Amy's Kitchen Coach Tips)
- 2 cups (1 lb.) packed brown sugar
- 1 cup unsalted organic butter
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 250° F. Line two rimmed cookie sheet pans with silpat liners or a thin rub down of butter.
- In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, water, and salt and bring to a boil. Continue boiling moderately for 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 additional minutes until caramel is thicker and technically at the "soft ball stage", 234 degrees F on a candy thermometer. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, drop 1/2 teaspoon caramel into a glass of cold water to check if you can form it into a blob when you touch it with your finger.)
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. The caramel will bubble and puff up as you do this--keep stirring. Working quickly, but carefully (since the caramel is very hot), pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir gently to coat.
- Divide the caramel corn between the two prepared pans and bake for 45 minutes, stirring with a spatula every 15 minutes to bring caramel up from the bottom of the pan. Let cool and store air tight.