Most caramel corn is not drizzled with caramel sauce, as the name may suggest, but made by caramelizing sugar into a syrup that coats the popcorn and dries to a lovely crunch.
Caramel and corn based on sugar or molasses dates back at least to the 1890s; an early version of Cracker Jack, made with molasses, was sold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Kettle corn, seasoned with salt and un-caramelized sugar, dates to Colonial times.
Homemade caramel corn. Photo courtesy Zulka.
1. PREHEAT oven to 250°F. Melt the butter in large saucepan; stir in sugar, honey and salt. Cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil. Place a candy thermometer into the mixture. Reduce the heat to medium; boil without stirring about three minutes, to 265°F.
2. REMOVE the honey mixture from heat and stir in the baking soda. Place the popcorn in a large bowl. While stirring, slowly pour the honey mixture over the popcorn.
3. TURN the popcorn onto greased baking pan. Bake at 250°F for 45 minutes; stir every 15 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and break the popcorn into bite-sized pieces.
Caramel corn is an American invention: popcorn coated with a sugar- or molasses-based candy shell. A white sugar-based candy coating provides a lighter (if more cloying) flavor than traditional caramelized brown sugar or molasses.
Typically, a sugar solution is heated until it becomes a thick and brown caramelized candy syrup. Before the syrup cools, it can be mixed with an endless number of flavorings, from chocolate and coconut to blueberry and watermelon. The hot syrup is then mixed with popped popcorn, and allowed to cool.
Nuts are a popular addition. While peanuts are the most popular (think Cracker Jack), almonds, cashews and pecans offer a more sophisticated flavor.
The history of candy corn and a recipe for candy corn fudge.
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