Spicy Honey Caramel Corn

Despite the fact that I grew up in the 90’s, there are a number of things I didn’t really experience during that decade. I wasn’t a huge fan of Power Rangers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I never owned a Walkman. And I was too busy devouring Anne of Green Gables to even consider cracking open one of the Baby-Sitters Club books. (Oh but Sweet Valley High? Now that’s a different story…)

I’m thinking about all this since a huge wave of 90’s nostalgia seems to be crashing over America right now, especially when it comes to movies and TV shows. All the reruns, remakes, and reunions tend to evoke a whole lot of excitement– unless you’ve never seen the originals. It was with that in mind that Gabe and I sat down to watch Jurassic Park on Friday night. The first one.

Yeah, I’d never seen the original Jurassic Park movie. (Don’t look at me that way, friendly but bewildered cashier at Whole Foods.) In my defense, it would have scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid. But I’m slightly less jumpy nowadays, so I decided it was time. (The verdict? Pretty good movie, but even better music.)

So if you’re jumping on the 90’s nostalgia bandwagon and looking for a delightful snack to munch on while binge-watching Seinfeld or anticipating the Full House remake, I highly suggest this spicy honey caramel corn. It has all the sweetness of classic caramel corn, but the addition of cayenne pepper puts this treat firmly in the grownup camp. Even if your entertainment choices are bringing you right back to childhood.

Spicy Honey Caramel Corn

Spicy Honey Caramel Corn

Spicy Honey Caramel Corn

  • 1 cup unpopped popcorn
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper*
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 250° F with two racks placed near the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Pop the popcorn on the stove or in a popcorn maker. (I love my air popper.) Set it aside in the largest bowl or container you have, keeping in mind that you’ll need room to toss the popcorn with the caramel mixture. I often use a big stockpot, but you can also use two bowls.

In a small bowl, whisk together cayenne and baking soda. Set aside.

Over medium heat, melt butter in a two-quart saucepan. Stir in honey, brown sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Once the mixture begins boiling, let it continue to boil for five minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and carefully add the baking soda mixture and vanilla extract. The caramel will bubble up violently and might splatter, so be sure to stand back! When it has stopped splattering, stir the caramel carefully to make sure the vanilla and baking soda mixture are evenly mixed in.

Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir until the popcorn is well coated. Be very careful not to touch the caramel– it’s hot! Evenly scoop the popcorn onto the two baking sheets. Bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes or so. Test the popcorn for doneness by cooling a small piece and tasting it. The popcorn is done when it’s perfectly crispy, not mushy at all. If it’s still soft, keep baking!

Remove from oven and let cool completely on baking sheets. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

* Use 1/4 tsp. cayenne for popcorn that has just a hint of spice. Use more if you like things hotter!

Source: Adapted from Annie’s Eats and also inspired by Smitten Kitchen.

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Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles

It’s almost Valentine’s Day. Do you have something for your sweetheart? If cooking and baking is your secret Valentine’s weapon, please drop everything and make these truffles right now. Peanut butter, chocolate, and pretzels, the perfect combo of salty and sweet. Oh yes.

These truffles are sure to please all the loves in your life: kids, friends, partner, mailman, golden retriever with a stomach of steel. I’m kidding, please don’t give your pets chocolate. Anyway, making these truffles is almost as easy as picking up a heart-shaped box of chocolates at your local drug store, but you’ll get the warm glow that comes with saying, “Look! I made you something!” Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some chocolate to eat.

Peanut butter pretzel truffles

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Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups crushed pretzels
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate

Stir together peanut butter, powdered sugar, and butter until creamy and well combined. (You can use a mixer, but it’s not necessary.) Add pretzels and stir until they are completely incorporated into the peanut butter mixture. Using a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop (or your hands), scoop the mixture into about 3 dozen evenly sized balls. Place on parchment lined cookie sheets and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Chop the chocolate and carefully melt it in the microwave or over a double boiler. Remove the truffles from the freezer and carefully dip each truffle in the chocolate until completely covered. (I generally use a fork to dip the truffles.) Gently shake off excess chocolate and place each truffle back on the cookie sheet. Let cool until fully set.

Makes about 3 dozen.

Source: Annie’s Eats.

Peanut Butter Cups

Happy Halloween! I am happy to report that even in our apartment building– a land of twenty-something professionals and graduate students– we got to see a few mini humans dressed as super heroes tonight. (Apparently plastering a sign that said “Welcome Trick-or-Treaters” ensured that we would not have to eat an entire bowl of candy by ourselves. Phew.)

I would have loved to give the little munchkins homemade treats like these peanut butter cups, but we don’t yet know our neighbors very well, and I didn’t want any paranoid parents thinking I was hiding razor blades in all that sweet, sweet chocolate. So I opted for pre-wrapped twix bars.

My guests last Friday night weren’t so lucky. They had to eat these by the dozen. Poor souls.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful evening, filled with treats and void of tricks. Happy Halloween!

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Homemade Candy Corn

You may have noticed a tiny new feature on the bottom left corner of my blog. It’s a quote from Julia Child that says, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

I put that quote there as a gentle reminder this week, while I was about halfway through a battle with homemade candy corn.

It’s ironic… this recipe was supposed to be my victorious return to the kitchen after my soufflops. Proof that I actually knew my way around a spatula. But I forgot one teensy little lesson I learned last fall: my candy thermometer is off. Way off.

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Goldilocks and the Three Batches of Caramels

Ahhh December baking… steeped in tradition. I love revisiting recipes I’ve made every year since I was old enough to hold a spatula. But this winter I’ve held off on the old favorites until I’m back in Minnesota, choosing to concentrate my efforts on new recipes instead.

Enter caramels. I tried to make a yummy-sounding recipe from Annie’s Eats. And I failed. Then I tried again. And failed again. I finally got the good sense to calibrate my candy thermometer and learned it was reading 25 degrees lower than the actual temperature, leaving me with batches of crunchy toffee instead of chewy caramels. Mystery solved.

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Sweet ‘n’ Salty

Last week was filled with savory Thanksgiving dishes, so it seems only fitting that I’ve spent most of this week making sweets.  (And writing papers… don’t worry, Mom.)  Besides lingering leftovers, there’s no longer any “real” food in the apartment.

I’m okay with that.

First came amazingly delicious caramel corn.  This recipe (see below) made a whopping 32 cups!

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Twix o’ Treat

I will admit that I was very distracted while making homemade Twix bars.  (Within six hours, I had two papers to write and a class discussion to plan.)  So I set the caramel on the stove and sat at the kitchen counter with my laptop, keeping one eye on the candy thermometer and the other on the merit of visitor participation in museum interpretation.

In the end, my papers were submitted, the class discussion went well, and the candy turned out delicious.  The caramel is a little runny, but I just didn’t have the patience to get it to the right temperature!

Why, oh why, did it take FOREVER to get to 300 degrees?

As long as I keep them cold, they should be okay :)

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