I blame Michael Ruhlman for my caramel corn craving. Back in January– soon after we met at Club Med’s Food Blog Camp—Ruhlman started a flurry of debate on Twitter on the merits of cooking popcorn in cold oil. Though I have never before craved popcorn of all things, I realized that my rather serious longing for a spicy caramel corn was not going to go away until I made some for myself.
Let’s just say I’ve made a number of batches since January. Thanks, Ruhlman.
Turns out, caramel corn is a tricky thing. Some recipes I tried were too sugary and encased my delicate corn puffs in sugary straight jackets. Others varied widely, depending on the type of sugar I used. I have tried several batches (and dispatched the leftovers to loved ones across the state so that I wouldn’t eat the entire thing myself), and have finally discovered the best recipe to fullfill for my need for spiced (i.e. cinnamon and nutmeg spiced), caramel corn.
There’s no place like home
I suppose it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise to discover that the best recipe out there for caramel corn comes from my very own culinary hero (and boss), Nancy Silverton. Her recipe is quite simple to follow and, with a little manipulation of ingredients, the flavors and textures are exactly what I was looking for.
If you like a light (and not overly sticky) coating of caramel on your popcorn, I recommend using a fine bakers’ sugar. Otherwise, if you want a thin mahogany coating of caramelized sugar on every kernel, then be sure to use a large grain sugar (I used Trader Joe’s organic raw cane sugar), instead.
Oh, and if you happened to come to the Grove this past weekend for first annual National Food Bloggers Bake Sale, this is the recipe for what I made. Thanks to everyone’s generosity and support Food Bloggers from across the nation raised $16,500 to help feed our country’s hungry children*.
Nancy’s Spiced Caramel Corn
Adapted from a recipe from Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book
1 cup almonds, loosely chopped (or broken down in a mortar and pestle)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup un-popped popcorn
¼ cup water
2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon cardamom, freshly ground
2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon Chinese allspice
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
To pop the corn:
- In a medium-sized pot, heat the oil over high heat with one kernel. When it pops, add the un-popped corn and cover with a lid. Once the corn begins to pop, shake the pot consistently until the last kernel has popped. Remove from the heat.
- First without any heat, put water, sugar, spices, salt, vanilla extract, and rice syrup in a large, deep pot—at least 12 inches wide—and stir together. Once well mixed, put the pot over a medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil WITHOUT STIRRING IT. Using a pastry brush or heat resistant spatula dipped in water, brush down the sides of the pot to remove all of the un-dissolved sugar. This step is very important.. If you miss any grains of un-dissolved sugar it will break the caramel and liquid will crystallize.
- Continue cooking over medium heat for four to five minutes. Tilt and swirl the pan as the liquid heats up, turns a caramel color, and gets just to the point of smoking. Stir in the popcorn and nuts, being careful not to break down the popped kernels’ delicate structure. Stir until completely coated, moving the skillet on and off the heat to prevent the caramel from burning. Cook the mixture until it turns a deep brown. Pour onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and spread out to cool.
Though you may be tempted, do not eat until the caramel is cool to the touch. Caramel corn can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.
*Nearly 17 million—almost one in four—children in America face hunger. Despite the good efforts of governments, private-sector institutions and everyday Americans, millions of our children still don’t have daily access to the nutritious meals they need to live active, healthy lives. More information on SOS can be found here.