Cathie Campbell

Golden sweet caramel corn

Even though I can make caramel corn that is practically addicting, whenever I stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, I always have to stop in one of the candy shops to buy a box of caramel corn. You can see them make it in the window and they keep it warm and crunchy. But of course, most of us are not able to be over there anytime we feel like having caramel corn (and that’s probably a good thing in some ways).

There are a few times I have had really good caramel corn that I bought from a grocery store, but I am not remembering any specifics at this time. Usually, when I want great caramel corn and I have no plans to go anywhere, I just make it myself at home, and you can, too.

This first recipe is my favorite one and I find it to be the easiest one. It is an oven-baked caramel corn. Notice I say caramel instead of carmel? Well, I used to always say carmel but got corrected so many times I finally gave it. At least I don’t add the letter D to avocado anymore. Many years ago I used to say advocado (sounds like oddvacado). Oh, there are so many other silly mispronunciations I’ve done but we won’t go there. On to the recipes.

Oven baked caramel corn

15 cups popped corn, unbuttered and unsalted (I find better syrup coverage with 13 cups)

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed (I use dark brown)

1/2 cup (1 cube) butter

1/4 cup corn syrup (clear or dark)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 200. Place popped corn in a very large mixing bowl and get as many unpopped kernels out as possible.

2. In medium saucepan, heat brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt, stirring occasionally, until mixture gets bubbly around the edges. Continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. It is okay if mixture is softly boiling, but stir frequently.

3. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda, mixing well. It should become foamy and lighter in color. Pour over popped corn and stir until well coated, scraping edges and bottom of bowl frequently.

4. Spread evenly on a jelly-roll pan (or shallow roasting pan) that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then break apart.

Caramel corn with cashews

You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe.

1 package (3.5-oz.) microwave popcorn (best if you don't use a strong butter flavor)

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

6 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups salted cashews (or substitute peanuts, pecans or almonds)

1. Preheat oven to 250. Line a shallow baking pan with foil or parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.

2. Chop the cashews, making the pieces about the size of peanuts. Pop the microwave popcorn and place in in a large greased bowl.

3. For the caramel sauce, add brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, water and salt to a medium saucepan. Place pan over medium heat and stir mixture until the butter melts and the brown sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring occasionally, until syrup reaches 250. Watch carefully so the syrup doesn't overcook or burn.

4. As soon as the mixture reaches 250 degrees, remove from heat and add the baking soda and vanilla, stirring well until combined. Mixture will become foamy and lighter in color.

5. Pour caramel mixture over the popped corn and stir with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until the popcorn is well coated. Add the chopped cashews and mix them in well.

6. Spread popcorn mixture evenly over the prepared pan. Try to keep the popcorn in a single layer, but if you can't, you may need to use a second pan. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and stir every 15 minutes to prevent burning and to continue coating popcorn and nuts.

7. After an hour, remove from oven to a wire rack and allow to cool about 30 minutes. Break up any large pieces and enjoy. Store in airtight container.

Cracker Jacks copycat

Remember Cracker Jacks? When I was a kid, there were some neat prizes inside the boxes. Now they just give you paper, and not much candy coating.

4 quarts popped popcorn, plain

1 cup roasted peanuts

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons molasses

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 250. Combine popcorn and peanuts in a large bowl. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat, bringing mixture to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, bring mixture to a hard-ball stage (250 to 265 degrees) or the point at which the syrup, when dripped into cold water forms a hard but pliable ball.

2. Working quickly, pour the caramel mixture in a fine stream over the popcorn mixture, make sure you mix quickly and cover as much popcorn as possible. Place mixture back in the oven for 15 minutes and mix well every five minutes, so that all of the popcorn is coated. Cool and store in a covered container.

Chewy caramel corn

This recipe is quite different as it does not make a crunchy coating. And you can easily cut the recipe in half. As is, it is good for a crowd, but I tend to shy away from a new recipe that makes a large amount until I try it first. As with all chewy caramel, be careful with your fillings and crowns! I once bit into a Sugar Daddy candy and out came a crown! Oh and if you are using microwave popcorn, use plain or light butter flavor, not heavy.

30 cups popped popcorn (about four 2.9-oz. microwave bags)

1 pound light brown sugar

1 cup butter

1 cup light corn syrup

1 can (14-oz.) sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Place popped corn into a very large mixing bowl. In a large pot, combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Place it over medium-high heat and heat until it starts to boil. Add the sweetened condensed milk and reduce heat to medium heat (reduce the heat to medium-low if it is cooking too quickly or starting to burn). Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the caramel mixture reaches softball stage (235 degrees).

2. Remove the caramel mixture from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour caramel over the popped popcorn and mix it quickly and gently to coat evenly. Allow to cool and break into smaller pieces, if needed. Store in airtight container at room temperature.