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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Salted Caramel Corn

Best Efforts:

You know how there are always things you *mean* to do before a deadline, but never seem to? The things that, despite your best efforts, you're still burning the midnight oil to complete the night before. SPUDS doesn't just understand how you feel, we fully support the last minute scramble. We firmly believe that necessity isn't only the mother of invention; it's the reason all those midnight snacks taste so good. Bearing that in mind, we'd like to present you a very easy caramel corn recipe, posted at the last minute and with mere hours to spare before Christmas.

In college, my best efforts to finish my latest submission for fiction workshop, or that twenty-five page Spanish final, with days instead of hours to spare, always managed to fall short. Sure, I turned the assignments in, but never until just before the deadline. And, despite misconceptions bred incestuously in schoolrooms across the country, adults do it too: vehicle registrations, field trip permission slips, lunch money, taxes, holiday shopping. It's the nature of the beast, so let's not pretend we can fight it. And, in honor of embracing our last-minute nature, SPUDS would like to present you a short list of some of our favorite (under $20) Holiday gift ideas selected especially for the deadline crunching shopper, including a delicious treat/gift idea that takes under 30 minutes, and $10, to assemble:

SPUDS Holiday Gift Ideas:
  1. For the English Major: "The Glamour of Grammar" by Roy Peter Clark
  2. For the Music Major: Os Tribalistas "Velha Infancia"-for a taste CLICK! (or) Jack Black's "Brutal Legend" for XBOX, PS3 and Wii
  3. For the Co-worker: Give a "Global Giving" gift card, and let them choose a project that inspires them.
  4. For the Room-mate: Socks, to replace the ones you keep taking by accident.
  5. For the Coffee-addict: Cafe gift card + homemade: chocolate chip cookies, snicker-doodles, biscotti, orange zucchini bread, easy toffee or Salted Caramel Corn.
Making candy corn is deceptively simple; the caramel part doesn't even require a spoon to stir it. That being so, I was a little unsure of this recipe at first. Wouldn't the sugar burn at a high heat? What if it stuck to the pan? Are you sure caramel corn is really that easy? But, after a quick turn about the kitchen after work last night I realized it was easy, and easy to make on a whim because of the simple ingredients that *all* students have on hand: sugar, popcorn. Because this recipe does not require a candy thermometer it feels even more accessible and fool proof. The key is, like most things, not to burn the mixture. I kept my heat a little lower than the original recipe suggested because I'm skittish that way. But, other than a little organization, and a good eye for color, this recipe is hard to ruin. As I'm sure most any chem major could tell you, the bonds created by the sugar and water when applied to high heat are really incredible. In fact, it is this process that gives crunchy treats like toffee their distinctive snappy texture. And the best part is, the sugary residue left in the pot is easily broken down with the reapplication of water and a little time in the sink. So, take a deep breath. The land of sweets is just within your grasp.

Notes: As soon as the caramel is a light golden color turn off the heat (see photo), it will continue to deepen in color. If you let the caramel get too dark before you turn off the heat it might burn and become bitter. Be sure to add the popcorn to the pot, and not the other way around to ensure the corn is totally coated with caramel. Once the popcorn has begun to cool, (to the point where you can handle it without burning yourself) be sure to break it up into small clusters. Don't be afraid to add mix-ins like marshmallows, chocolate chips, nuts or candy pieces once it is totally cool. Package in air tight containers, or cellophane bags, and you've got the perfect stocking stuffer, or late night snack for frosty winter nights in front of the tv.

Adapted slightly from Gale Gand's "Caramel Corn with Salted Peanuts and Cherries"
6 (1 cup) servings

2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
6 cups popped popcorn
3/4 cup toasted pecans
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Toast your pecans over low-heat, and set aside.
2. Add the sugar to a deep sauce pot. Slowly, pour the water around the perimeter of the pot, being carefully not to splash sugar up on the sides of the pot. Draw your finger through the sugar to form an "x". DO NOT STIR.
3. Cook the sugar over medium-high heat. When it comes to a full boil, cook it for 10-15 minutes. The sugar should be lightly golden brown in color. During the last two or three minutes of cooking, swirl the pot gently to even out the color.
4. Turn off the heat and then stir in the butter. Quickly add the popcorn and pecans.
5. Immediately turn the mixture out onto the greased cookie sheet, add the salt and toss to coat. Let it cool for a few minutes, until it is cool enough to handle. Break the mixture up into clusters and cool completely at room temperature before storing in an airtight container.

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