Spicy Caramel Popcorn

Merry (day-after) Christmas!

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Although Santa made his rounds yesterday, I have another present for you.

I’ll give you some hints:

It’s like brittle, but better.

It’s caramel, but with a kick.

It’s pretty, and pretty addictive.

It’s spicy caramel popcorn, and it’s my favorite cocktail hour (or any hour) treat.

My cousin Zachary thinks this popcorn is going to make me famous. (But seriously… place your orders now!)

My mom… well… the conversation with my mom went something like this:

[each of us grab a few pieces]

Mom – Wow Sarah, this is really good.

[has a few more]

Mom – It’s really addictive.

[…Slyly picks out a few more]

Mom – Why did you do this to me?!

[Mom walks away from the popcorn bowl]

[Mom returns to the popcorn bowl and takes a few more pieces]

Mom – MMMHHHHH…. I wish I had never started!

It all starts with fresh, stove popped popcorn (which is so good and versatile I think it should be it’s own food group). Next, another episode of baking magic. Just bring some sugar, butter, water, and salt to boil…. twelve minutes and no stirring later – voila! – caramel.

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Just when you think it can’t get any better, whisk in some baking soda and cayenne and watch as the rich, golden caramel erupts in a sweet volcanic flow similar to something Willy Wonka would have submitted for his 6th grade science experiment.

After the popcorn and the caramel have been mixed and cooled, the result is a brittle-like texture with an unbelievable crunch and spicy finish. It’s no mystery that I love sweet and spicy together (remember those Aztec Cookies a few weeks ago??), but this a different kind of spicy entirely. Instead of the rich, deep, full-bodied spicy that you get from the cookies, this crackcorn is a warm, bright zing that makes your mouth scream HELLO!

This is literally the most irresistible snack on the planet.

I’m not even sure I should open Pandora’s box and share the recipe.

Just knowing that I have some in my backpack is making it hard for me to concentrate on finishing this post.

See for yourself! Go make a batch, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Spicy Caramel Popcorn

From the Nytimes

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup popcorn kernels

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 cups sugar

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 c water

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt.

Coat a large rubber spatula and mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped. Transfer to the greased bowl, and don’t forget to remove any unpopped kernels. (or someone might break a tooth when you add the caramel!)

Whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper.

Combine the sugar, butter, salt and water and cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, about 12 minutes. Make sure you are watching it towards the end as it can go from caramel to burnt VERY quickly.  Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking-soda mixture. (The volcanic bubbling will happen here)

Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and use the greased spatula to toss the caramel and popcorn together, until the popcorn is well coated.

Pour onto a sheet of tin foil and spread into a single layer. Allow the caramel popcorn to cool before breaking it into pieces (kind of like when you make brittle).

Resist the urge to eat it all yourself.

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