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Sugar High Friday: Caramel Corn, for E

My friend E, of the field trip to heaven I described earlier today (she took the photo above this afternoon of her little boy, F, at Chocolate Haven), doesn’t have a blog but she loves to cook, and write, as much as anyone I know. Here is her contribution to tomorrow’s Sugar High Friday:

Spring approaches, and in Manhattan that can mean weeks of indeterminate damp and clammy weather or sudden bursts of wild heat and humidity that make the distinction between “springtime” and “miserable summer” hazy, at best. My hair is curling just thinking about it.

Anyway, I mention the climate because this recipe, I learned the hard way, is a touch seasonal. It does better in the autumn and winter months when it is a bit drier. I cooked up a massive amount of caramel corn for a July 3rd party I threw for my brother’s pre-wedding “rehearsal cocktails” and it all turned rather lumpish and got soggy immediately. This is not at all the fault of the recipe. Blame it on the summer.

I discovered the recipe while lying around one Saturday eyeballing the Food Network. I collect tons of recipes from the newspaper and occasionally from television shows, but I rarely make any of them. When I saw Paula Dean – the resident Southern cook on the Food Network – turn out this stuff, I had to try it. Caramel corn is a favorite item in my family, though usually it comes in the form of Cracker Jack. My mother, a true connoisseur of the stuff despises all alternative products (hates Fiddle Faddle, Crunch n’ Munch and “Poppycock” – her own mother did some savage damage to her teeth with Poppycock) can rarely be swayed from her choice junk food but I had to try and she responded very well to this mound of caramel tastiness.

Here’s Paula’s recipe – with my annotations.

Caramel Corn

1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar (I use the dark brown kind)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cut light corn syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 quarts popped popcorn (NOTE: if pressed for time, as I am when I throw parties because I don’t entertain often enough to achieve anything like a “rhythm,” I’ll use lots of microwaved popcorn, anything that says it is “natural” with no extra flavor or butter. One way wind up with some extra salt this way, but I spent a lot of time in Virginia growing up and I am pretty much addicted to salt and am not afraid of it. Not at all.)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees

Over medium heat combine the butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup and boil the mixture for 5 minutes. Use a larger pot with higher sides than you think you will need, and here’s why.

Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda. This will create some kind of incredible reaction. The caramel doubles in volume and looks like The Blob and burbles up like some kid’s volcano model for science class. Watch out.

Pour the caramel over the popped corn, which will do best in a roasting pan. Apply considerable amounts of elbow grease to coat the popcorn well.

Bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread the finished corn on waxed paper to dry out.

The result is very tasty, truly classic caramel corn. You won’t break your teeth on it. It will perhaps remind you of long past Halloweens, but I think it is more delicious than the popcorn balls I recall, so think of this as an improvement on memory.

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