Ahhh, Christmas. Don’t you love this time of year? No matter what you do, simply follow it up with “It’s the Holidays!” and people give you a pass. Did you eat an entire pumpkin pie by yourself in one sitting? It’s the Holidays! Did you max out your $15K limit credit card? It’s the Holidays? Did you pass out drunk at your office Christmas party only to wake up in the janitor’s closet 2 days later soaked in your own urine? It’s the Holidays! Tack a Holiday label onto just about anything and it all of a sudden becomes socially acceptable. You’re weird if you put a tree in your house, unless it’s a Christmas tree. Going door to door singing this week’s Top 40 isn’t nearly as endearing as Christmas caroling. And for a few weeks, creepers everywhere operate unhindered under the guise of a Secret Santa. This truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Following this trend, it’s time to share my caramel corn recipe. Indulgence at its finest. There were some requests for this when Jules posted a pic of it on her Instagram a few weeks back (see photo above, if you don’t follow along, then follow along chrislovesjulia), and she finally talked me into it. But I must warn you. It’s delicious, and all other snacks henceforth will be insufficient. Your ingredients, in order of appearance are…
Popcorn – I use 1/2 Cup of the unpopped kernels. If you prefer Orville to do the dirty work, then you can use 1 bag of microwave popcorn, though the flavor will be different
Chex – This is both a texture and a taste thing, and it is a must. Can be whatever kind you like. It can even be Great Value brand. I suggest rice or corn. Use half a box (the 12.8oz box)
Butter – 2/3 8oz stick
Cocoa Powder – 1 heaping teaspoon
Brown Sugar – About 1 1/2 Cups
Light Corn Syrup – About 3/4 Cup
Marshmallows – 3 individual, large marshmallows. Seriously, you don’t want much more than that, or it’s way too sticky
Peanut Butter – I use about 1/4 Cup. I prefer the chunky kind, because it adds little pieces of peanut to the mix. If you prefer you can use creamy and add peanuts, or just use creamy without the peanuts. Whatevs. It’ll still be awesome
Coarse Grind Sea Salt – Fleur de Sel, Coarse Gray, etc.. A few pinches – maybe 1 1/2 teaspoons worth. Don’t get too hung up on the measurements
A’aight, so first step is to pop the popcorn and get the stubborn seeds removed. When you’re eating regular popcorn, the unpopped seeds make their way to the bottom. Not so with caramel corn. They can be anywhere, planning; watching; waiting for the perfect moment to… CRACK there goes your tooth. So seriously, spend a few extra minutes tossing the popcorn around, transferring it from bowl to bowl, removing the little seeds. Once that’s done, add the Chex and set aside.
Now, making caramel is an art. Seriously, the littlest misstep and your smooth, creamy caramel turns to sand and is horribly unappealing to eat. Fortunately, this recipe comes equipped with a few ingredients that allow for a bit more flexibility when it comes to stirring. Here’s what you do:
Put your pan on medium-low/low heat. Add your butter and let it melt. Add the cocoa powder to the butter and whisk it together, making sure to get all the clumps of cocoa powder out. If you forget the powder like I sometimes do and you have to add it later, be sure to sift it before adding.
Next, add the brown sugar. Fun fact, brown sugar is nothing but regular sugar and molasses. Last night, we didn’t have brown sugar. But we had molasses left over from some BBQ sauce I made awhile back, so I made my own brown sugar. Works just the same. Add the corn syrup and stir it all together well immediately, before it gets hot.
The reason you want to mix everything together before it gets hot, is because once the caramel starts to cook, that’s when it’s most susceptible to crystalizing, or becoming grainy. Basically, as the mix boils/bubbles during cooking, the sugars release themselves from each other and the mixture becomes smooth. If during this phase you were to start whisking, you move the sugars together and it starts a chain reaction, causing the molecules to clump and your caramel to be embarrassing. Do you want to be embarrassed by your caramel? Didn’t think so.
So basically, you melt the butter, add the cocoa and mix it in, add the brown sugar and corn syrup and mix those in while the mix is still only warm, then let it go until it bubbles. Once you can tell it’s gonna start bubbling, add your three marshmallows and let them sit there while the mix cooks. DO NOT STIR THEM YET! Let them cook a bit, then flip them over and let them cook some more. You’ll notice they’ll start to get a little bigger. This is when you take your whisk and start teasing the marshmallows. Just poke at them a bit and take your time. Don’t get all crazy and start whisking away. Why? Say it with me, “Because my caramel will be embarrassing.” Very good.
Once you can see the marshmallows are starting to loosen up, then you can get a little more stern with them. Gently stir, taking time to let the marshmallows melt at their own pace. The marshmallows are our first ingredient that is going to help prevent crystallization, but only if we get them mixed in before setting off the chain reaction that renders your caramel inedible. That’s why you allow the mallows to melt at their own pace. Once they’ve melted, then you can mix a tad more aggressively, but again, don’t go crazy.
Once the mallows are in, add the peanut butter and give it another stir. The peanut butter is our other ingredient that helps prevent crystallization. Once that’s in, you’re pretty much home free. Just stir it all together, pour the caramel onto your popcorn and Chex, and stir it up. Once it’s evenly mixed around, go ahead and sprinkle your sea salt on and stir around again.
So that’s it. Chocolate-peanut butter-marshmallow caramel popcorn. It’s awesome. I’ve added all kinds of stuff to this mix and it always comes out good – pretzels, shredded coconut, almonds, etc.. Add whatever, just be sure to have the Chex in there. Seriously, it makes the whole experience. Hopefully you’re able to enjoy a big bowl of this playing games or watching old school claymation Christmas specials with your loved ones. It’s delicious, it’s comforting, and hey, it’s the Holidays.