Sunday, February 26, 2012

Homemade Cracker Jacks

Whether young or old, this homemade version of the classic American candy, Cracker Jacks, will knock your socks off. Cracker Jacks, as they became known, were created in 1872 and were later mass-produced and sold at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. They have been popular ever since. The combination of popcorn, sugar, and nuts is genius. The best part is, it's incredibly easy to prepare. I'll be serving this sweet and salty treat at a small Academy Awards get together tonight. Serving Cracker Jacks is a lot more fun than putting out plain old popcorn. Any time I make these at parties or special occasions, I'm lucky if I get seconds! 

The only downside to making it yourself, is that there's no prize to be found at the bottom of the box (but I think they stopped using the cool trinket toys years ago and have since replaced them with pathetic paper riddles). However, you could always throw your own toy in the mix- just make sure no one chokes on your surprise! Once you make your own, you'll never go back.


Courtesy: Alton Brown, Good Eats

3 oz. plain popped popcorn (about 3 quarts, or 1 microwavable bag)
1 cup salted peanuts
1 stick butter (½ cup)
16 oz. dark brown sugar (about 2 cups)
¼ cup dark corn syrup
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and grease with butter or non-stick spray. 

Place the popcorn in a medium-sized bowl and shake it a bit to allow the unpopped corn to settle to the bottom. Transfer the popcorn to a large stainless steel bowl and discard the unpopped corn kernels (you'll break your teeth if you don't remove them!). 

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla and stir until well combined. Continue to cook the mixture until it reaches 250 degrees F (hardball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the nuts.

Pour the syrup over the popcorn and stir to combine using a large rubber spatula (work quickly, as the sugar syrup hardens rapidly). Evenly spread the mixture onto the prepared sheet pan and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Let cool completely before breaking into pieces. Serve immediately, or store in well-sealed zip-top bags. The cracker jacks will keep well at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. 

Yield: about 4 to 6 servings

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