Maple Caramel Corn

Maple Caramel Corn

It is hard to believe there are just a few more days until the holidays, I feel like the lights and festivities have just begun!   I hope everyone is completely prepared, with all your shopping done – and you are just relaxing this weekend…right.  I know how it goes, it is never that easy.  All I have to say is I am so glad I started making jam last spring, it really made my gift giving a lot easier this year.  Of course I didn’t make nearly as much as I usually do – but I still made enough to make it through.

If you are trying to decide what to make for your friends, family and neighbors, I am here to help.  I decided to post just a few of

my favorites for you – and all of these are easy enough to bang out in a day – and you still have 5 days until Christmas!

Here are a few of my favorites:

1)  Pear Vanilla Jam

2)  Chocolate Almond Toffee

3)  Salted Pistachio Brittle

4)  Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel

5)  Rocky Rods

And now for a new one to add to the list – this Maple Caramel Corn that we made at The Pantry Holiday Gift Making class – with kids.  We couldn’t stop snacking on this, it is quite addicting.  Boy would I be happy with this as a gift.

I wish all of you a very happy holiday – I hope you spend it with the people you love, and with food that you have been craving.  And most of all, I hope you can relax just a little…that would be the best gift of all.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup popcorn kernels
  • 3 tablespoons high-heat oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • flaky sea salt for finishing

Preparation

Preheat the over to 250 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan on medium-high heat.  Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan.  When the kernels pop, add the rest of the 1/4 cup of kernels in an even layer.  Cover, remove from heat and count 30 seconds.  Note:  this method first heats the oil to the right temperature, then waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time.

Return the pan to the heat.  The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once.  Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner.  Keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release; this makes the popcorn slightly drier and crisper.  Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat.  Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and transfer the popcorn from the pan to the bowl, taking care to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the maple syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, spices and water.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Continue to summer, whisking often, until the mixture reads 250 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 3-4 minutes.  Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whish in the baking soda and vanilla.

Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn.  Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt.  Place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.  Gently break up the popcorn and serve.

Keeps in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Maple Caramel Corn

 

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Salted Pistachio Brittle

Pistachio Brittle 2

I made it – I actually dove into the pool and survived.  Yes, I have entered the 21st century, and the world has not come to an end.  I can’t believe what a breeze it was to use Windows Photo Gallery for my entire photo editing process.  I can’t believe how many hours (probably days) I have lost moving from program to program.  I am shaking my head as I am typing.  Pretty soon I will have my new wireless printer (that actually is wireless) and nothing will stop me.

That is…until September.  That is truly when the world will come to an end.  Tonight I took my older daughter to the Middle School open house.  Wow.  That is just about all I can say.  Wow. (Moms – any guesses on where that is from??  Yes, just about the greatest book ever.)  Chaos – that’s exactly what it was – in one word or less.  Before we left, she asked me if she should bring her cell phone in case we get separated.  What??  Of course we will not get separated.  Right.  There were more people in that school tonight than I ever could have imagined.  At one point I thought I was going to lose it – I hate crowds.

Then we both had a little freak-out session in the car on the way home, except that I pretended to be nice and calm, like a good mom should – and I let her freak out about how it is going to be so crowded, and so hard to find all the classes, and what if my locker sticks?  Then I told her about our dear friend and neighbor down the street – who couldn’t get into his locker for the first week of school, and had to carry all of his books around the entire week – including his lunch – and then one night told his mom he wasn’t going back to school.  That made her feel better – good job mom.

So – what is just about the only thing that can make anyone feel better after that?  Salted Pistachio Brittle.  This stuff is like crack, not that I have ever tried that – but it is ridiculously addicting, and amazingly delicious.  You can’t just have one bite, oh no sir-e-sir.  Good thing I had a nice pile to come home to.  This recipe from Bon Appetit is just about the best candy I have ever made – and just about the easiest.  No rolling caramel wrappers, you just break and serve.  I feel better already.

Here we go – the world is changing so fast, and my girls are growing up – but there will always be salted pistachio brittle in my life – that I know will be true.  Please remind me of that in September – I am definitely going to need some then, as I kiss my baby good-bye that fall morning…and let her into that chaotic world.  Wow.

Ingredients

  • Nonstick vegetable oil  spray
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup unsalted, shelled raw natural pistachios, very coarsely  chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted  butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher  salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking  soda
  • Coarse gray sea salt (such as  fleur de sel or sel gris)

Special Equipment

  • A candy thermometer

Preparation

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; spray with  nonstick spray and set aside. Whisk sugar, corn syrup, and  3 tablespoons water  in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Fit saucepan  with candy thermometer, bring mixture to a boil, and cook until thermometer  registers 290°, 3-4 minutes.

Using a heat-proof spatula, stir in pistachios, butter, and  kosher salt (syrup will seize initially, but will melt as it heats back up).  Continue to cook syrup, stirring often, until thermometer registers 300°  and  pistachios are golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Caramel should be pale brown  (it will  darken slightly as it cools). Sprinkle baking soda over and stir quickly to  blend caramel thoroughly (mixture  will bubble vigorously).

Immediately pour caramel onto pre-pared baking sheet and,  using a heat-proof spatula, quickly spread out as thin as possible. Sprinkle  sea salt over and let caramel cool completely. Break brittle into pieces.

DO AHEAD: Brittle can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight  between sheets of parchment paper (to prevent sticking) at room temperature. 

Pistachio Brittle

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Salted Pistachio Brittle

Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel

I tend to over-extend myself.  Whether it is at work, or at home – I always think I can do more.  I fill my weekends with activities (ok, my kids fill me with activities), and I try to fit in baking and cooking whenever I can.  I can never say no to baking for auctions, or various events at my kids schools…I actually look for those opportunities – as much as I end up cursing later on.

I signed up to bake for the “Dessert Dash” at an auction we are involved in last weekend.  I didn’t want to just bake a cake, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to give people some choices, and some variety to choose from – knowing that 10 people bid on dessert – and they are stuck sharing one item.  So – I decided to make a Dessert Tower – or what I called – The Tower of Treats.  I bought a three-tiered cardboard cupcake stand, and filled it with various desserts (all of which I will be posting).  Here is the first one – which I sprinkled in between the other goodies.

I found these delicious caramels at Annie’s Eats – I have always been afraid of the candy thermometer, but I faced my fears, and made these – and I am SO GLAD I DID.  They were amazing – in fact, I am still enjoying them because the recipe made so many.  They are buttery and rich, and the subtle salt flavor is just amazing with that deep caramel.  I couldn’t believe they were so easy…I am making these every holiday to wrap my pretzels before dipping them in chocolate.  Wow, I have really been missing out – don’t waste another day…MAKE THESE NOW!!!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise and scraped
  • 1¼ tsp. fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water

Preparation

Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper.  Lightly butter the parchment.  In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, pods, and fleur de sel.  Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Boil, without stirring but gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture is a light golden caramel color.

Remove the vanilla bean pods from the cream mixture and carefully stir the cream mixture into the caramel – the mixture will bubble up, so pour slowly and stir constantly.  Continue simmering the mixture until it registers 248˚ F on a candy thermometer.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pan.  Let cool for 30 minutes, then sprinkle lightly with additional fleur de sel.  Continue to let sit until completely set and cooled.  Cut into 1-inch pieces (a buttered pizza cutter works well).  Wrap the individual caramels in small pieces of wax paper, about 4-inch squares.

Makes approximately 64 caramels

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel

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