Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Tradition - Caramel Popcorn

Caramel corn is good any time of year, but a must at Christmas time.

The other day I was reflecting on our family holiday food traditions and, quite frankly, I felt like a failure. When our daughter, now 19, came into our lives, I decided to pay tribute to her Mexican roots by making and eating tamales on Christmas morning. I asked a Mexican family if I could join them for tamale making and found the process so labor intensive that I vowed that I would never make them on my own. It was just as well. As it turned out, I'm the only family member who likes tamales. I ate them alone on Christmas morning while thinking, "This tradition sucks."

I experimented with other traditional Christmas morning breakfasts, but hubby preferred his yogurt and cereal and Cynthia only cared about opening presents. Sigh. When Cynthia was little, we created and decorated houses from graham crackers, icing and candy, but never graduated to a more sophisticated gingerbread house. I experiment with new cookies every year, but haven't developed a traditional favorite.

Where did I go wrong? Just when I was about to throw in the food flag, Cynthia came to me and asked, "Mom, when are you going to make the caramel popcorn?"

Yes! We do have a tradition - the caramel popcorn that she and her friends devour by the bowlful. The caramel corn that I mix with nuts and give as gifts. Feeling like less of a failure, I found I had the three main ingredients - butter, sugar and light corn syrup - on hand and ran out to purchase the mixed nuts.

The Best (and Easiest) Ever Caramel Corn

2 quarts popped corn (I use microwave popcorn)
1 to 2 cups nuts (salted, roasted mixed nuts, any kind you like)
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 t. vanilla
1/2 cup light corn syrup

- Combine sugar, butter and corn syrup in large pot. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.

- Continue boiling until light brown color (like the color of peanut butter), about 10 minutes.

- Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Mix in popcorn and nuts. (It's easiest to do this in the same container that you use to prepare the caramel.)

This is the perfect "peanut butter" color. Be careful. At this point, the candy goes from "just right" to "overcooked" in seconds. I ruined the first batch.

- Spread on cookie sheet. Let cool slightly and break into pieces. Store in air-tight container.

The popcorn on the left is the proper color. The batch on the right, slightly overcooked, looks good, but tastes bitter and burnt. It ended up in the trash can.

It seems that I always overcook the first batch. It's part of my holiday tradition.


Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

What a great gift idea.

Piper Robert said...

Has Cynthia had "no-bake" cookies?

Make a batch and see what happens.

Margaret said...

I'm going to make this. My eleven year old gets her braces off next week. What a treat this will be for her.

Susan C said...

Yes, Miss H, a bag of caramel corn in a pretty cellophane bag with bow on top or in a pot wrapped in cellophane makes a nice gift. I just don't like those metal canisters with Christmas scenes.

Robert, no, I haven't made the no-bakes for the fam. I was never a fan.

Margaret, how fun. This would be the perfect thing for your daughter and it's easy for the young ones to help. Mary's daughter helped me make a batch when she was 11.

altadenahiker said...

Thank your lucky nostarstonight, because if it weren't so miserable out I'd be pounding on your door begging for this.

JCK said...

This IS a great gift idea. And it looks yummy!

Piper Robert said...

Not a fan? I've personally witnessed you eat a thousand.

Troy Corley said...

My sister & I devised a caramel corn recipe that I make around Halloween and often make batches for Christmas gifts. I've got some secret ingredients tho that will take your basic recipe to a higher level! Email me :)

susiegb said...

That looks yummy!!

Nancy said...

Oh, this looks delicious. If time permits, I'm going to make it, too! If it's successful, I'll make it next year for gifts! n

Cafe Observer said...

Feeling lika a starving dog so I'll ck out what SC has cooking for me.

Hmmm...Not xxactly what I was thinking, but your cam makes it look warm & tasty.
Where do u sell this?

Laurie said...

I've never attempted caramel corn... but now I must try.

My daughter is such a fussy eater, we have no CHristmas food tradition yet other than me begging her, "eat something off your plate, please" like I do every night. (But I'll bet I could get her to have some of that popcorn!) My husband's and my traditional Christmas dinner is a vegetarian curry I leave in the crock pot all day. The coriander, cinnamon and turmeric make the house smell festive and it's so easy. Plus, neither one of us likes ham or turkey! I also often make a pumpkin soup from a recipe I got in St. Lucia. It smells Christmas-y, too.

Susan C said...

Laurie, I'm glad I'm not the only one who is holiday food tradition challenged.

Your vegetarian dish sounds fabulous. I love Indian spices and have a date after Christmas with an Indian friend for a little cooking lesson.

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