*This post is part of a series, Handmade Holiday Gifts.*
Oh how I love this time of year! My birthday is in December, (the 11th) and then Christmas. It feels like such a lucky month for me. Speaking of lucky, my wonderful father who is a photographer, bought me a fabulous new camera for my birthday! So if you notice a change for the better in the quality of my pictures, we can all thank my dad. "Thanks Dad"!!
December is wonderful also because it gives me an excuse to make lots of treats. Most of them for giving. This caramel corn is one of the gifts I've been making for people for a few years now.
This caramel corn is quite easy to make, you need a candy thermometer, because getting it to the correct temperature is crucial. But don't let that scare you. The total amount of time this takes to make is under 30 minutes. And it's inexpensive to boot. Flexible also, instead of nuts you can use pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, raisins, m&m's or a combination of mix ins.
It is well covered with the caramel as you can see in this picture. Hence the name, "clusters". Just break it into pieces. That is something I enjoy about this treat.
Caramel Corn Clusters
adapted from this recipe
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar packed
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp salt (or a little more if using unsalted mix ins) I used sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup salted peanuts, or mixed nuts. Or you may use almonds, cashews, pistachios, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, raisins, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, m&m's, reeses pieces, or pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds. Or a combination of a few of these. Whatever sounds yummy to you.
special equipment a candy thermometer, or an infrared thermometer if you have one of those.
Make the popcorn.
Heat oil with 3 kernels of the popcorn in a heavy pot, covered, over moderate heat until the kernels pop. Remove lid and quickly add the remaining kernels, then cook, covered, shaking pan frequently, until kernels stop popping, about 3 minutes. I have an electric stove, so I would lift the pot, then shake, then put back on the heat. The shaking is important, as I've burned popcorn on the stove if the heat is too high, or if I didn't shake it enough. Remove from heat, uncover and set aside to cool. When cool, remove the un popped kernels and discard. Set the popcorn aside.
Line a cookie sheet with foil and grease it.
Make the caramel.
Melt butter in a large heavy pot over moderate heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until the butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Then cook without stirring, only swirling pan if necessary, until the thermometer reaches 270-280. This is important. It will go from 280 to burnt in a heartbeat. If the temperature is too low, the corn will be softer, it won't dry hard. Remove pot from heat when comes to temperature.
Using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, stir salt, baking soda, and vanilla into syrup, then quickly stir in nuts or other mix ins and popcorn to coat. Immediately spread mixture in the lined cookie sheet as thinly and evenly as possible.
Cool, then break into pieces.
taking the temperature with an infrared thermometer To easily wash the pan you made the caramel in, fill it with water, put it on the stove and bring it to a boil until all of the caramel is dissolved, wash as usual.
*EDITED TO ADD- Corn Syrup substitute recipe