Food

Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn

This was probably the most stressful experience I’ve had in the kitchen and it’s all because I’m an idiot. It didn’t help that I was in a pissy mood for some reason. For this entry, I’m including the recipe from Bon Appetit verbatim albeit chopped up and how I unsuccessfully maneuvered my way around it.

Makes about 15 cups
  • PREP: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • TOTAL: 3 hours (includes cooling time)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsalted raw cashews (one 2.5-ounce package)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 oolong tea bag
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat popcorn and oil in covered heavy large pot over medium-high heat until kernels begin to pop. Using oven mitts, hold lid on pot and shake pot until popping stops. Pour popcorn into very large bowl.

I put off preheating the oven and start with popcorn. Why should I have to deal with a pot that’s threatening to explode and scrub it after? No. I decide to use microwavable popcorn instead. I go a step further and buy the salted kind without partially hydrogenated oils cos that stuff’s nasty. It turns out great – it cooks perfectly, is delicious and I get to skip the salting part. I give myself a pat on the back. Problem is, I have no idea how much popcorn 1 and 1/2 cups of corn kernels yield. So I pop 2 bags.

2. Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain; cool.

Having gone through the comments, I know that there’s not enough bacon in this recipe. According to my non-existent math skills, a 200g pack of bacon is a little shy of twice the amount in the recipe. I figure it would do. I’m mildly annoyed at the heavy large skillet instruction.

3. Add bacon and cashews to bowl with popcorn. Sprinkle with coarse salt and cayenne; toss to coat.
I realize at this point that I might have way too much popcorn, at least to mix everything in one go. I decide to mix everything in batches and transfer some of the popcorn into a medium bowl. I mentally ration the bacon and cashews and it becomes clear that I have too much popcorn. I stuff my face with it between sprinkles of cayenne pepper.
4. Bring cream and tea bag just to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat; let steep 15 minutes, occasionally pressing on tea bag with back of spoon to release flavor. Discard tea bag.
Aargh! I knew I forgot something! I don’t have oolong tea!!! Having just come back from the grocery store, I decide against going back just to get tea bags. I’m pretty sure I have black tea somewhere. They’re nowhere to be found. Crap. Oh wait, 7-11 sells individual tea bags and it’s just down the street! They seem to have every single kind except black. I walk back home defeated and grudgingly open a green tea bag. Now. How to heat up a quarter cup of cream? How to heat up a quarter cup of anything? Really, Bon Appetit? The microwave it is. I check back after 15 minutes and nothing has been released into the cream. The sight of the soggy heavy cream-dipped tea bag makes me sad.
5. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil; coat with nonstick spray. Coat 2 wooden spoons or heat-resistant spatulas with nonstick spray; set aside.
My spatulas make me smile. I preheat my oven.
6. Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high; boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing d0wn sides with wet pastry brush, about 13 minutes.
I keep stirring and stirring and wonder why it won’t come to a boil. I read the instructions again and realize I’m not supposed to stir once everything is dissolved. I leave it alone and it magically starts to boil. Sugar starts to crystallize around the edges of the pan. I couldn’t be bothered. I also don’t own a pastry brush. What color is amber again? All I know is that it’s the color of Nicole Scherzinger’s energy.
7. Remove from heat and immediately add cream (mixture will bubble up). Stir until blended.
Once my unflavored cream hits the sugar, the caramel bubbles up violently. It’s also very hot. How can you be so stark raving calm, Bon Appetit?!

8. Immediately drizzle caramel over popcorn mixture; toss with sprayed spoons until evenly coated. Transfer to sheet.
Things are starting to stick everywhere. The sprayed spatulas were a great idea.
9. Place caramel corn in oven and bake until caramel is shiny and coats popcorn, tossing mixture occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool completely on sheet on rack, tossing occasionally to break up large clumps. 
I smell something burning about a minute into baking. I check on the caramel corn and some of it is charred around the edges. I get everything out of the oven and it’s just madness – smoke, hot, sticky wet caramel, where’s my bowl, ouch I need new oven mitts, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? I manage to transfer everything into a big bowl. I check the recipe, check my oven temperature, trace back to when I preheated my oven. I had used an iPhone kitchen units app to convert F to C. Instead of typing in 300, I had typed 500. 

What to Drink

The folks at Colt & Gray suggest The Derby, a classic cocktail made with bourbon, Bénédictine, and bitters.
I wanna chug a bottle of soju.
As tragically as it all ends, I summoned enough willpower to finish a batch. Sweet and salty with a little kick, this is caramel popcorn elevated to an art form. But I’m picking up a tub at Chef Tony’s next time.
Fun Food Fact: Cashews are always sold shelled. The shell is known to contain a toxic oil similar to the one found in poison ivy.
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