A super-simple stovetop caramel enriched with malty amber ale is the key to this treat’s off-the-hook flavour. The salty-sweet caramel ripples through a tasty mixture of popcorn and peanuts (or other favourite nuts) to create a snack that’s great for gifting — or for eating all by yourself!
10 cups (2.5 L) store-bought air-popped popcorn (see tips)
1-1/4 cups (310 mL) unsalted roasted peanuts (see tips)
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) amber ale (see tips)
1/4 cup (60 mL) white corn syrup (see tips)
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) baking soda
Preheat oven to 225°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.
In an extra-large mixing bowl, stir popcorn with peanuts. Set aside.
In a large, high-sided saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, amber ale, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking often to recombine and keep mixture from bubbling over. Boil, whisking often, until mixture is a deep caramel colour and thickened to the consistency of liquid honey, about 7 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat. Immediately stir in vanilla, and then baking soda. Working quickly, pour caramel over popcorn mixture, tossing constantly with a silicone or rubber spatula, until popcorn is well coated.
Spread mixture over prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes, until caramel is firm and shiny, 45 to 60 minutes (see tips).
Let cool completely on pan on a wire rack. Caramel corn will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.
If you have time, feel free to make your own popcorn. You’ll need about 1/3 cup (80 mL) kernels to make the 10 cups (2.5 L) called for here. Pop them in an air popper, or heat a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Remove lid and add a sprinkle of water; if it sputters, reduce heat to the low side of medium-low and add popcorn kernels. Put the lid back on and shake the pot every few seconds to keep the kernels moving. They should start popping after a couple of minutes. Continue shaking until you hear a marked decrease in popping sounds. Pour popcorn into a large bowl and let cool.
Salted or unsalted toasted pecans, mixed nuts and/or almonds make great substitutions for (or additions to) the peanuts.
A sweet, malty amber lager will work just as well as an amber ale. And bolder golden corn syrup can stand in for the white if you have it.
The perfect caramel corn is crunchy and has a firm, shiny appearance. This could take up to 60 minutes of baking, depending on the consistency of your caramel. It will be worth the wait!