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We finally had our first frost in Maryland just a couple weeks ago. Fall has been pretty delayed. For our gardening business, it was great! But, for the love of cooler weather and all the joys that entails, it's been a touch sad.
When pregnant (baby girl #2 is due early December!), I often have a hankering for popcorn. And recently, I've been looking for an opportunity to make caramel popcorn specifically (because, fall). The opportunity I was looking for came when market season ended, and we decided to take a mini family road-trip up north. I mean, having a more than ample supply of snacks and goodies is a must on vacation, right?
I happened upon this recipe a few years back. (Yes, I was pregnant.) It comes from the almost infallible Deb of Smitten Kitchen. I made it more than a few times shortly afterward. Since then, the recipe has only gotten easier to whip up thanks to a marvelous kitchen tool that Maria first discovered: the Whirley-Pop. If you don't have one of these, seriously consider investing in one. Or gift it! It won't disappoint. It literally takes less than 5 minutes to whip up a delicious bowl of freshly popped popcorn, making microwave popcorn only marginally more convenient if that. Plus, it allows you to flavor and season according to your tastes and cravings, like the recipe below.
1-3 tbs. of coconut oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 cups sugar (which you could safely cut back 1/2 cup)
3 tbs. butter
1/2-3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water
Grease a large bowl and two cookie sheets. Set aside.
Pop the popcorn: If using your Whirley-Pop, add coconut oil and popcorn kernels to the Whirley-Pop, close top, and place over medium-high heat. Stir constantly at an easy tempo. Once popcorn begins popping, continue to stir until there is only an occasional pop or the handle becomes hard to turn (don't force the handle). At that point, remove from heat and dump popped kernels into large bowl. Remove any unpopped kernels and set aside.
Make caramel: in medium saucepan, combine sugar, butter, salt, and water. Cook over medium-high heat without stirring until it becomes an attractive caramel color (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (it will foam). Immediately dump onto popcorn and stir to coat evenly. (Move quickly! But don't fret that some will stick to the saucepan and bowl -- it's inevitable.) Dump coated popcorn onto cookie sheets. Let cool.
Once popcorn has cooled, break into pieces and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. (Though, I could only see this being a possibility or consideration if it was going to be gifted. Not a bad idea for Christmas!)
Smitten Kitchen's recipe is spicy and has nuts. I usually prefer caramel popcorn plain and simple. But every now and then, it is fun to mix things up. If you would like to add nuts, add up to 2 cups to the popped kernels after the first step. To add heat, mix 1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper with the baking soda and add as directed.
It would be fun to experiment adding pumpkin or other spice instead of the cayenne. Another post, perhaps!