I think I gained four pounds this week. The reason? Caramel corn.
I'd been dreaming about making caramel corn. Thinking about buttery-flavored sweet kernels... and how to create a caramel topping free of dairy, white sugar, and corn syrup.
One of our friends is moving to Colorado for a cheese-making apprenticeship at a small dairy. It wouldn't have been a proper good-bye without an amazing potluck dinner: sausage for the non-veg folks, salad, roasted vegetables, hand made peanut butter cups, and some caramel corn. Quite the way to say good-bye.
This caramel corn isn't like the overly sweet stuff that you get from the tin at Christmas time. This is a lighter version that is still sweet, but won't give you that crazy sugar rush. If you like your popcorn sweeter, simply use less popcorn (2 batches instead of 3) and you'll get more caramel.
One of my favorite things about making this is that it made the entire apartment smell like sweet caramel. It's also fun to snack on the gooey, warm kernels from the oven. And I'm not quite sure how this is possible, but three days later I'm still finding stray kernels on the floor. Sure, it's a little messy. But definitely worth it.
Caramel Corn with Sea Salt
Yields: 36 cups (a little over 2 gallons)
Serves: 8 - 10 people
3 batches of plain, unsalted stove-top popcorn
1/2 cup olive oil
2/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses (optional)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
Spray three large cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray.
Remove any unpopped kernels from your popped corn.
In a saucepan, combine the olive oil, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and molasses. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat and gently boil for 5 minutes, continuing to stir.
Remove from heat, stir in 1 teaspoon of the sea salt, baking soda, and vanilla extract. (The baking soda will cause the mixture to double in size and change to a light brown color.)
Mix the popcorn and caramel together. (I found this easiest to do in several batches in a large bowl mixing with my hands.) Make sure to mix them together while the caramel is still warm. (As it cools it becomes harder to mix together.)
Spread the popcorn on the sheet pans. Sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of sea salt. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 10 - 15 minutes. (Due to a lack of oven space I had to use the top rack which browned the popcorn much quicker. If you use your top rack, rotate the sheet pans so they are only on top for 15 - 20 minutes and keep an eye on it so it does not burn.)
Cool and break caramel corn apart before serving.