So over the weekend I happened to stumble across a recipe on Food52.com for homemade cracker jacks. This to me is about as American as apple pie and hot dogs. Whether you grew up with actual cracker jacks, knock offs or things like Fiddle Faddle this treat is easy to make and just as delicious.
Now, I will say it takes some patience, a candy thermometer, and it’s much easier with two people. It starts with making popcorn. If you’ve never made your own popcorn it’s not hard to do and is so much better than commercial microwave popcorn because you can flavor it how ever you like. I recently blogged about Food 52’s popcorn recipe as well which has worked for me every time I have done it.
Then to make it into cracker jacks all you need to do is make the caramel topping, drizzle it all over the popcorn and toss it with peanuts. Then you bake it in the oven at a low temperature and enjoy!
OK, so this caramel is pretty normal but there are a few tweaks to give you the perfect cracker jack flavors:
- 1 ¾ ounces (about 5 cups) Freshly Popped Popcorn, lightly salted
- ¼ teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 2 ½ ounces Salted Spanish Peanuts (I didn’t have any so I used the plain peanuts I had along with hazelnuts. I also did a quick blitz of them in my mini chopper.)
- 3 ounces Light Brown Sugar
- 1 ½ ounces Light Corn Syrup
- 1 ½ ounces Unsalted Butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons Molasses
- 1 pinch Kosher Salt
- 1 pinch fine sea salt (optional)
Start with making your popcorn. While that is getting started preheat your oven to 250ºF. Once the popcorn is done put in a bowl large enough to toss once the caramel is added.
In a small pot, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, molasses, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, over medium-high heat, and cook to 250° F (I pull my mix off the heat at about 245ºF as it will continue to rise from the residual heat).
Once you remove it from the heat immediately stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Add in the nuts. (All three ingredients need to happen quickly as the mixture will start to cool and harden quickly.) Pour over the popcorn and gently but quickly stir the mixture to evenly coat all the popcorn kernels. (The recipe from the website has you add the nuts after the caramel is added to the popcorn. I found the nuts weren’t sticking well enough so I switched it up to putting the nuts directly into the caramel which seemed to work much better.)
Pour the mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet. With the back of a spatula, quickly spread it out into a single layer. Bake for 1 hour, stirring mixture halfway through.
When done, remove from oven and stir the caramel corn once more. If using, sprinkle with the fine sea salt. Enjoy right away or store in an airtight container. (To be totally honest none lasted long enough to store so I don’t know how long it will keep.)
This s a new family favorite! You might want to think about making individual servings of this or you’ll eat the whole bowl in one sitting… Yes, I know from personal experience.