Monday, February 27, 2012

Caramel Corn on Steroids: Spicy Nutty Maple-Bacon Caramel Corn

I want you to ponder something for just a moment: Spicy Nutty Maple-Bacon Caramel Corn. Are you drooling yet? This popcorn is some seriously good stuff, and it has a habit of disappearing very quickly once people take a bite! My friend Janet brought some of this addictive popcorn to the office for me to try on Valentines, and it was love at first bite!! I knew I had to make a batch for a work lunch last Friday…and share the recipe with y'all. This popcorn is a little spicy, a little salty, and a little smoky from the bacon.  If you’re a skeptic and think that bacon seems out of place in caramel corn, think again. It’s a huge part of what makes this caramel popcorn so yummy…trust me! I tweaked the original recipe just a bit, because that’s what food bloggers tend to do! I added a bit of pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup to the caramel mixture…and I upped the salt since I adore salted caramel. The only other tweak I made was to add pecans to the roasted peanuts the original recipe called for. the spirit of full disclosure, this isn’t exactly the healthiest snack you could eat. The calorie and fat content is way higher than the recipes I usually share -- mainly because you pop the popcorn in the bacon grease that’s left when you cook the bacon. I know, I know...just do what I did: enjoy a moderate portion and share the popcorn with a group of friends to spread the calories around a bit. Then eat a green salad (or two…) for lunch the next couple of days. Balance, my friends -- balance!

Spicy Nutty Maple-Bacon Caramel Corn
adapted from Texas Co-op Power (via Janet)

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 200. Slice 8 strips of bacon into bite-sized pieces and cook until crispy in a large pot or Dutch oven (at least 5 quarts). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels to the bacon grease, cover, and pop. I found that it helps to shake the pan as the kernels pop so you get even popping. You'll have about 8-9 cups of popcorn when you're done. Put the popped corn into a large mixing bowl -- make sure to remove any unpopped kernels. Top with 1/2 cup pecan pieces, 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, and the bacon pieces.

Step 2:  Make the caramel by adding the following ingredients to a non-stick pan over med-high heat: 1 stick butter, 1 cup light brown sugar, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, 1 tsp. black pepper, and 1 tsp. salt. Stir until the butter melts and all the ingredients are combined. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from heat and add 1/2 tsp. baking soda. The caramel will foam, but that's ok...don't panic!

Step 3:  Slowly pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn-bacon-nut mixture, stirring constantly to combine. Keep stirring until all of the popcorn mixture is evenly coated with the caramel. Spread the caramel corn on a large nonstick rimmed jelly roll pan that's been sprayed with cooking spray. If you have a Silpat, you can use that; parchment is also good to prevent sticking. Spread the caramel corn in an even layer on the pan. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden, giving it a stir every 5 minutes to ensure that it cooks evenly. 

Step 4: Let the caramel corn cool for about 30 minutes, then break it into bite-sized pieces. Store it in an airtight container. Since it does contain bacon, I kept the container in the fridge until I shortly before I was ready to serve it the next day. I let Michael sample some the night I made it, and he gave it an enthusiastic thumps up...and then he asked me to make a batch for him to munch on this weekend!

I can’t tell you how delicious this popcorn is! The first thing you taste is the salty sweetness of the caramel and the smokiness of the bacon, then you notice the heat from the pepper in the background. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s a nice counterbalance to the sweetness. The maple flavor is very subtle, but it pairs well with the bacon. Maple and bacon are two of my favorite breakfast flavors, and they work well here too. My suggestion is to make this caramel-corn-on-steroids for a party so you don’t have to eat the entire batch yourself…although you may want to. Once you try this popcorn, it’s very tempting to eat it by the handful. If you do give in to temptation? Enjoy…and then follow up with a Lipitor chaser!!

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