Apparently today is National Popcorn Day.
I would not have known but for the email that arrived this morning from Chef's Catalog announcing the fact. As usual with such emails, there were links to several recipes. Since I love popcorn (I mentioned a few posts back that I have been known to eat it for dinner), I clicked on a few of the links. One of the recipes was for Caramel Corn. I was surprised to see that the recipe was almost identical to a recipe that I have been making since my freshman year in college. It is a decidedly un-chef-y recipe. Not really "caramel" corn (since the sugar in never technically caramelized), it is nonetheless delicious and dangerously addictive. If you like caramel corn, this simple recipe should be part of your permanent repertoire.
I have no idea where my version of this recipe originated other than that it was given to me by the mother of a dorm-mate. I have a feeling it is a "back of the box" recipe...possibly from Karo ...or C&H....but this is just a guess. I have altered it a bit over the years. The original called for butter extract. Long ago I replaced this with vanilla. And since for years now I have only used unsalted butter, I have increased the salt a bit. But if you use salted butter, just reduce the amount of salt in the recipe to a teaspoon.
The biggest change I have made is in the amount of popcorn. The original recipe called for 6 quarts of plain popped popcorn. My air-popper when run at full capacity makes just over 3 quarts of popped corn. I have always just made two full batches and used it all without thinking too much about it. Recently I measured it and found that I was actually using 7 quarts of popcorn. I have always like the way the recipe turns out with this increased amount of popcorn. If you stir carefully and thoroughly to make sure the popcorn is evenly coated when you first add the butter-brown sugar mixture, you will find that this larger ratio of popcorn to goop gives a lighter, crispier result.
A smaller amount of popcorn for the same amount of goop results in pockets of the butter-brown sugar mixture that have a somewhat unfortunate texture....not exactly hard...and not really soft....but just the right texture for sticking to your teeth. I find this unpleasant...but I concede that there are many who feel that this is what caramel corn is all about. I noticed the Chef's catalog recipe only called for 5 quarts of popcorn. It seems that any amount of popcorn in the 5 to 7 quart range will do...depending on whether you like your caramel corn to be a bit chewy and tacky or crunchy and light.
After receiving the email announcement from Chef's this morning, I decided to look up National Popcorn Day on line. I discovered that there is some disagreement over whether today is in fact National Popcorn Day. Evidently there are those who feel the day actually coincides with Super Bowl Sunday. Since I don't watch football, today works just fine for me. But for those of you who do watch football, I believe the Super Bowl is approaching. This caramel corn would make an easy and fun addition to your game party spread.
Oven Caramel Corn
2 sticks unsalted butter (225 g)
2 c. packed golden brown sugar (400 g)
1/2 c. light corn syrup (165 g)
1 1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. vanilla extract
7 quarts popped popcorn
Place the butter in a medium sauce pan along with the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Bring to a full boil (medium to medium-high heat)
and boil for 5 minutes—stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the baking soda and vanilla extract. Stir well—the mixture will foam and increase in volume.
Immediately pour the mixture over the popcorn (in a large roaster) and stir well until the popcorn is evenly coated. Place in a 200° oven for 1 hour to an hour and 15 minutes (see note), stirring at 15 minutes intervals. Remove from the oven and cool, stirring once or twice as it cools if you don't want big clumps. Store in an airtight container.
Note: The original recipe called for one hour in the oven. Sometimes after an hour the popcorn still seems a bit too sticky to me. When this happens, I give it another fifteen minutes.