This week marks the opening of our baseball season. Opening day has been rescheduled from yesterday to today due to snow. That means we’ll be celebrating opening day and the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the same day. It also means that I’ll be making another batch of our homemade caramel corn for snacking.
Popcorn is a perfect pairing for baseball and movies. If you’ve ever stood in your team’s stadium and sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, you have uttered the iconic lyrics:
“Take me out to the ball game;
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.”
Like so many families, we eat around food allergies, particularly peanuts. So, buying peanuts or cracker jack when we’re at the ballgame isn’t an option. When my son was little, he just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t have the treats that were mentioned in the song. Somehow, he felt like they must be paramount to enjoying the ballgame if they were included in the song that an entire stadium full of fans stood up to sing together.
It was hard for me to argue that point with him. For a little boy, dressed in his team’s hat, swaying to the music with the crowd, those treats seemed like part of the experience, a part that he wasn’t able to enjoy. Suddenly, I knew that I was going to be spending time in our farmhouse kitchen doing my best to recreate the taste of cracker jack without a peanut or nut in sight.
I searched cookbooks, blogs, magazines, and anywhere I could find reference to a homemade caramel corn. I tried many of them. Some were complete disasters. I burnt more caramel than I would care to admit, filling the farmhouse with the acrid aroma of burnt sugar. Other batches were good, but difficult to make and not quite what I was hoping for.
I wanted to create a caramel that added that crisp texture and hint of sweetness to a batch of popcorn. I also wanted a recipe that was simple to make so that we could enjoy it whenever we wanted to. So, I kept working, trying new recipes and altering them in the hopes that I would discover one that was just right.
It required a lot of experimenting and many batches of popcorn being thrown away before I had landed right where I wanted to be. When my son took a handful of that caramel corn, I couldn’t wait to see his reaction. I watched as he tasted it and smiled from ear to ear. When that happened, I knew that it was perfect.
Since then, I have made this recipe for Bourbon Caramel Popcorn countless times. The caramel is crisp and filled with earthy sweetness of fresh caramel. There’s just enough salt to balance the sweetness without overpowering it. It tastes so much better than the old cracker jack mentioned in the song that started me on my quest to perfect caramel corn.
We’ll be enjoying a few batches of this popcorn this week. We’ve got opening day for our hometown Red Sox to celebrate and Star Wars: The Force Awakens to watch on movie night. You can be sure that we’ll all be snacking on this crunchy treat on both counts. While my son has long forgotten about his disappointment over not being able to enjoy cracker jack at the ballgame all those years ago, I haven’t. With each bite that he takes, I’ll be smiling at the thought of him having his very own homemade version to enjoy year after year and replacing that memory with a happy food memory that will last a lifetime.
- 12 cups plain popcorn, popped
- ½ - 1 cup nuts or Nadanut nut free pieces*
- 6 Tablespoons butter
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons bourbon
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liner. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- I like to use our air popper to pop the popcorn, but you can use whatever method you prefer. After popping, carefully sort through the popcorn to remove any unpopped kernels. Transfer the popcorn to a very large bowl or pot. If you are adding Nadanut pecan or walnut pieces or traditional nuts, mix them into the popcorn.
- In a small bowl or cup, measure out the bourbon. In a second small bowl or cup, combine the baking soda and cinnamon. These ingredients will be added to the caramel very quickly and premeasuring is necessary for success. When the bourbon and baking soda mixture are added to the hot caramel, it will bubble violently (hence the need for a large pot to make a small batch of caramel). Take care to stir these ingredients fully without touching the mixture.
- Place the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a large, deep pot over medium heat. Stir as the butter melts to mix the ingredients. Once the mixture begins to bubble, set a timer for four minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to gently boil the caramel. Do not stir the caramel during the four minute time period.
- When the four minutes have elapsed, remove the pan from the heat. Add the bourbon all at once, stirring as it bubbles violently to combine. Add the baking soda and cinnamon, stirring again as the mixture begins to lighten in color and expand. As soon as the soda and cinnamon are fully incorporated into the caramel, pour the caramel over the popcorn. Using two wooden spoons or spatulas, toss the popcorn and caramel until it is evenly coated with the caramel mixture.
- Transfer the caramel coated popcorn (and nuts if using) to the lined baking sheets, dividing evenly between the two sheets. Move the baking sheets to the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the caramel corn from the oven and allow it to cool to room temperature. As the caramel cools, it will become crisp.
- This caramel corn is best on the day it is made. It can be stored in an airtight container for a day or two before losing its crisp texture.
- *The version we make often includes nut free "pecan" or “walnut” pieces from Nadanut - Nut Free Snacks. They deliver that delicious nutty flavor and are made in a nut free facility so that we can enjoy the flavor of nuts without any worry of causing an allergic reaction. You can learn more about them at www.nadanut.com.
- If you don't have nut allergies to contend with, you can easily add in your favorite nuts to the popcorn with equally delicious results.