Every year around this time I try to take up knitting. I've always wanted to give hand knit hats and scarves and chunky cowls as gifts, but every year I get about 20 rows into the same scarf and give up. Patience for learning new tasks is hard for me to come by these days. The thing is, I really love to give hand made gifts. So after giving up on knitting and purling I inevitably end up in the kitchen stirring boiling hot pots of sugar, rolling out cookie doughs and pulling the sprinkles down from the top shelf to decorate cookie ornaments. Over the years I've built up quite a repertoire of tasty gifts and this caramel corn is one of my favorite snacks to bring to a holiday party. It also looks oh so cute packed up in little jars or bags for party favors. It is salty, sweet with just a hint of heat from the cayenne pepper and it is totally addictive. I use mushroom corn here which is a super fluffy variety of popcorn that is just perfect for holding lots and lots of tasty caramel and can handle the stirring without breaking, but good old fashioned jiffy pop works too.
Spicy Caramel Cashew Corn
yield about 2 quarts of finished caramel corn
1/2c popcorn kernels (mushroom corn if you can find it)
1 1/2t baking soda
1/2t cayenne pepper
1/2t freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups salted cashews
To Pop the Corn
Use an air popper OR if you are like me, do it on the stovetop
1. Heat the 3T of oil in a large heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat, drop a few un popped kernels in there while the oil is heating. When the kernels pop, the oil is ready to go.
2. When the oil is hot, toss in the 1/2c of popcorn kernels, put on the lid and shake the pan back and forth a few times to coat all of the kernels with hot oil. As the popcorn pops, shake the pan every 30 seconds or so to prevent the bottom kernels from scorching. Once the time between "pops" slows down to a few seconds, it's done. Immediately turn the popcorn out into a large bowl.
3. When the pop corn is cool, carefully go through and remove all of the un-popped kernels then pour the cashews on top of the popcorn, without stirring them in.
For the Caramel
1. Preheat your oven to 300ºF. Lightly oil 2 wooden spoons or spatulas (these will be used to stir the caramel into the popcorn) and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or lightly oil it (this will be used to cool the caramel covered corn).
2. In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat add the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2c water. Bring the mixture to a boil (without stirring) and let it boil vigorously until it turns a light golden caramel, 10-14min.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the spices and baking soda. The baking soda will make the mixture foam and expand so make sure you are using a large pot. The spices will cause the caramel to darken in color.
4. Immediately and carefully pour the caramel over the popcorn and cashews, grab your oiled spatulas and start gently tossing the mixture together. Keep stirring until the corn and cashews are evenly coated, then turn the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and gently separate the kernels. You don't need to go crazy here, but try to get it in an even layer.
5. Bake the caramel corn for about an hour, stirring every 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely before storing an an airtight container.
To give as gifts
Package a few cups of the corn in a mason jar, weck jar, or pretty glassine bag tied with a ribbon and a label.
- To wash all of your caramel covered bowls, spoons, and pots just soak them in really hot water and all of the sugar will just melt off.
-You can buy your own mushroom popcorn kernels JustPoppin.com quite a few times and their customer service is great, plus I really like their name.