This recipe for Caramel Popcorn graced the pages of our magazine in December 1997, but its nostalgic, Cracker Jack appeal is timeless—especially this time of year. The original recipe calls for margarine, but use butter for the best flavor. To balance the sweetness and create an eye-catching, giftworthy mix, I up the salty crunch with pecans (or use your favorite nut) and pepitas. For a kick of spice, add a pinch of cayenne to the sugar syrup, or use Picosos Hot Chile Peanuts (made in Helotes). You can pop your own kernels in a neutral vegetable oil or use store-bought popcorn.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 quarts popcorn (about 1 cup unpopped kernels)
12 ounces roasted salted peanuts
1 cup roasted salted pecans or cashews
1/2 cup roasted salted pepitas
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2. Melt the butter in a large, deep pan. Stir in the sugar, syrup and salt and bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla (mixture will foam).
3. Pour the mixture over the popcorn and nuts in a large roasting pan and use a rubber spatula to combine until the ingredients are thoroughly coated.
4. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Transfer the hot mixture to waxed paper to completely cool. Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 6 quarts.