When I met Derrick and Melissa at Craft in October, our meal ended with a tiny gift from the kitchen. Caramel Corn:
Longtime readers of this site will tell you that caramel corn has been the bane of my cooking existence for almost two years now. Disaster after disaster leaves me with burnt, globby messes of shrivelled kernals and inedible bricks of sugar. A few months ago, I had my first caramel corn success with a recipe from site reader Christine. But I even messed up that recipe the second time around, cooking the caramel too long (some might say “burning it”) which led to a funny experience in class where trusting classmates scooped up handfuls, stuffed them in their faces, smiled happy smiles until the smoky burn hit their throats and they stared at me like Bambi might stare at a deer hunter.
I’d given up all dreams of caramel corn glory until that tiny treat you see above was delivered to us at Craft. This was exceptional caramel corn. Perfection: silky, buttery, salty and sweet. All the good things life has to offer. I must have this recipe, I told myself. I will call and ask someone for it when I get home.
But call I did not. Instead, the same must-remain-nameless benefactor who sent me the Balthazar Cookbook sent me the Craft Cookbook. And lo and behold, the caramel corn recipe is on page 240. I attempted this recipe last night to bring to class today. How did it come out? Click ahead and learn the answer.
Well let me put it this way. I don’t mean to brag but my Pulitzer Prize winning teacher (ok, I’m bragging) took the first bite and rhapsodized over my achievement: “Oh, Adam,” she said. “It has such great clarity of flavor. I can really taste the caramel and the popcorn and the salt… Did you add the salt at the end or with the caramel?”
“With the caramel,” I answered.
“It’s just terrific. And addictive.” (She later asked someone to pass back over “that devil corn.”)
The rest of the class agreed. In fact: they agreed so much, I barely got any for myself. But that’s no problem, it’s a cinch to make. Are you ready? All you need is popcorn kernels, some oil, sugar, butter, kosher salt and baking soda. Here we go:
Craft’s Caramel Popcorn
[Makes 8 Cups.]
1 to 2 Tbs peanut oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 cups sugar
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a lidded pot. Add the popcorn and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until the popcorn stops popping. Transfer the popcorn to a very large oiledd bowl.
Place the sugar in a large saucepan and dampen with about 2 Tbs water (enough so the mixture looks like damp sand). Add the butter and salt…
…and heat over high, swirling occasionally, until the sugar is melted and the caramel is amber. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda.
Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and carefully stir with a heat-proof spatula until the caramel is evenly distributed and beginning to cool. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then serve or store in a covered container.
There she is, ain’t she a beaut?
I love the bright golden color of this caramel corn. And the salt–ah, the salt–it’s the salt that really does the trick. Makes everything sparkle.
Meanwhile, I used my fancy ceramic bowl only because it was the largest bowl I had and I knew I’d have to maneuver the corn once I added the caramel and all my other mixing bowls were too small. As happens with most caramel corn projects, a large sheet of caramel forms on the bottom and on the sides even if you keep mixing. So the corn attached to that sheet is kind of like Han Solo in “Empire Strikes Back.” It ain’t getting out.
But make this caramel corn anyway. It’s devilishly good. If I lived in Salem and I made this caramel corn, someone would yell: “I see Goody Roberts cooking with the devil!” And it would be worth it.