Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bittersweet Salted Caramel Corn

I am not the typical college kid. I go to bed early (before midnight, *gasp*), and wake up even earlier. I get freaked out when I don’t do my homework – and make study schedules every week so that doesn’t happen.

Most peculiarly though, at least at my school, is that I use the kitchen. A lot. Once a day, if not more, I am in there. And not just for making tea or heating up easy mac or rinsing off a disposable fork that came with my takeout (<-- people do that).

When I am stressed, happy, excited, or hungry my first instinct is to head to the kitchen. I want to put my feelings into food. And so, I haul my big box of food and all my pots and pans and utensils into the kitchen and get to work. People come and poke their heads in and say, “What smells so good?” “Wow, you’re baking something, that’s so impressive.” “Hey, can I have some?” Then they get their Ramen, and mosey on their way to do what “real” college kids do.

Like last night. I was in the midst of baking when I heard giggling and happy squeals emanating from a room down the hall. The caramel corn I was working on had five more minutes in the oven so I figured I would investigate.

I left the safe warmth of the kitchen and ventured into the hallway. I found a gaggle of freshmen girls in a room primping and getting ready to go out for the night. They said hi to me and we talked for a few minutes, they told me about their plans, I told them about my baked goods. They went back to getting ready and I wandered back to the kitchen.

But I didn’t feel the same. The place that was covered in sugar and flour and smelled of cinnamon just wasn’t the comfort to me that it had been minutes ago. I felt left out, alone, and kind of lame. Here I was on a Friday night standing in a too-small kitchen, covered in caramel, my feet aching from standing on the cold tile. And there they were – bubbly, excited, dressed-up and ready to spend a night on the town.

The timer dinged and I retrieved the caramel corn. Amber brown, crisp, and salty-sweet, it was perfect. Everything I had imagined it would be when I bought the ingredients earlier this week and tweeted on and on about it. A few of my friends wandered in, the smell of the caramel corn too much to ignore. They tasted it and confirmed my thoughts, it was perfection. Every smile and thank you made me feel lighter and lighter.

And that’s when I realized, I might not be the “typical” college student, but who cares? I might stay in on Friday, but there’s nowhere else I want to be. 

Except at the bottom of that popcorn bowl.

Mama Frischkorn's Double Gold Caramel Corn (makes about 12 cups, recipe from Kendall-JacksonWines)

12 cups air popped popcorn (I used white)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup brown sugar

¼ light corn syrup

½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. salt (kosher suggest, I just used regular table salt)

¼ tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a large jelly roll pan (rimmed baking sheet) with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.

Lightly spray a large mixing bowl with cooking spray. Add popcorn to bowl, set this aside as well.

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the brown sugar and corn syrup, mixing until all of the brown sugar is wet (the butter won’t fully mix in, that’s ok, it will later).

Cook on medium heat, NOT STIRRING OR DISTURBING THE POT, for four minutes. Continue to cook for another four or five minutes, stirring the caramel every thirty seconds.

Remove caramel from heat, stir in the vanilla, salt, and baking powder. Mixture will lighten and thicken. Be sure to fully mix caramel, getting all the thick syrup up from the bottom of the pot.

Pour half the caramel mixture over the popcorn and stir to coat before pouring the remaining caramel over the popcorn. Be all the popcorn is coated with the caramel.

Pour the popcorn onto the prepared baking sheet and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring the popcorn every five minutes.

When then popcorn is done, spread onto a large piece of parchment or waxed paper. Allow to cool for about 1-2 minutes before breaking apart into smaller pieces. Cool completely.

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