Caramel Corn Cluster Balls

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Recipe by Sarah Phillips © 2004 Sarah Phillips

Food styling and photo by Sarah Phillips © Sarah Phillips Shown with Peanut Brittle.
This recipe tastes just like a Cracker Jack recipe and is one of my favorites.You can also choose to leave the Caramel Corn loose and serve it as separate popped kernels covered in luscious caramel as I did in the photo, above. I have adapted it from Gourmet Magazine, September, 2004.


If the caramel covered popcorn cools too fast before you make all of the popcorn balls, break the caramel popcorn into smaller units. Place on a lightly greased, microwave-safe plate and warm a piece at a time, at 50% power in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until the caramel is JUST softened. Quickly form into balls.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (5 ounces) salted peanuts 

1. Line bottom of a large shallow baking pan with foil. Lightly oil foil. Set aside.

2. Heat oil with 3 kernels in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, covered, over moderate heat until 1 or 2 kernels pop. Remove lid and quickly add remaining kernels, then cook, covered, shaking pan frequently, until kernels stop popping, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and immediately pour popcorn into a large mixing bowl.

2. Melt butter in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring. To prevent unwanted crystallization, frequently wash down the side of the pan. Use a heatproof pastry brush dipped in cold water to get rid of unwanted crystals on the side of the pan to where the boiling mixture starts.

Insert a Candy Thermometer when the mixture just starts to boil. DO NOT STIR THE MIXTURE. Watch the sugar solution carefully and read the thermometer frequently until the temperature registers 300 degrees F (hard crack stage), about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

3. Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, immediately stir salt and baking soda into syrup, then quickly stir in peanuts and popcorn to coat. Make sure popcorn is evenly coated with caramel mixture by tossing frequently.

4. Immediately spread mixture in prepared baking pan. When mixture is cool enough to handle, working quickly, press popcorn into 3-inch balls with lightly greased hands.  5. Cool completely on waxed paper.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature; do not freeze or refrigerate.