03 January 2011

A Cracker Jack Hack

I took that photo on my patio yesterday morning before tucking into what looks suspiciously like a bowl of Cracker Jack. It's not quite the Cracker Jack I remember but it's something far, far better.

I had two wildly inconvenient dental procedures last month and after my last one, my dentist warned me not to eat popcorn until my gums healed. Not a problem because I never eat popcorn. I never eat it that is until a dentist tells me not to.

The surest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can't do something. My dentist's warning about popcorn gave rise to something deep inside of me and I was seized with a craving for not just popcorn but a very special kind of popcorn and something I hadn't eaten since I was around 12.

I became consumed with a craving for Cracker Jack so profound I lack words to describe it accurately. It kept me awake at night and when I couldn't stand it any longer I gave in and sped off to the grocery store. To my profound horror, Publix doesn't sell the stuff and if Publix doesn't sell it it may as well not exist.

Undaunted, I came home and turned to the internet for caramel corn recipes. As a point of order; that word, caramel, is pronounced kar-mel. Pronouncing it with the second A marks you as someone from the west coast. The horror!

Anyhow, I adapted a recipe I found on Recipes.com and I cranked out a king's ransom in Cracker Jack Hack. Let's look at my glorious effort again:

Here's what to do.
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 quarts popped popcorn
  • A mess of peanuts

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Place popcorn in a very large bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in soda and vanilla. Pour in a thin stream over popcorn, stirring to coat.

Place in two large shallow baking dishes and bake in preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool completely before breaking into pieces.
That seems really cut and dry but believe me, this is one of the messiest things I've ever made in my life. I took some liberties with the original recipe by adding more salt and a lot of peanuts. I think the added salt makes the sweetness less cloying and the peanuts are what make Cracker Jack Cracker Jack.

Craving sated, I can now concentrate on concealing the evidence from my dentist at my follow up appointment this week.

As fantastic as this stuff is, I made enough that I ate my fill on the first day and now I have great bags of the stuff sitting around. The next time I make this I'll split the recipe in half. As a side note, the caramel it makes is fantastic in its own right. It cools to the consistency and taste of a Sugar Daddy, another old friend from childhood. As wonderful as this fix was, it was still missing one key element.

Alas, I had no cheap ring or booklet of cheesey tattoos with which to while away my sugar-fueled afternoon.


  1. I love Cracker Jack!

    OMG, your recipe looks so delicious!

    Now I want some caramel popcorn!

    Happy New Year btw! :-)

  2. Thanks and a happy new year to you too!

  3. That looks so good! Can't wait to try it.

    Of course you forgot about us yankees who say "care-a-mel" 3 syllables and a harsher sound at the start.

  4. Well I'm a Yankee's Yankee who grew up pronouncing it the correct way and am living proof that there's hope for everybody. Hah! I was just being a smart ass. Thanks for your comment and Welcome to K&D! Your kids will love you for this recipe and you'll have the added bonus of knowing exactly what you're feeding them.

  5. ...yum....looks like a great recipe...maureen

  6. Ah, yes, the old poke in the eye from the east coast to the west. Sounds like a good recipe, though.

  7. As a proud Canadian west-coaster, I can't understand how you Yanks get the syllable thing so wrong. You'll take a REQUIRED syllable out of caramel (Just ask the French. It's in there.) but ADD one to a word like "film" (i.e. fill-um). The mind boggles.

    Cracker Jack rocks incidentally.

    Happy New Year / Bonne Année

  8. Maureen: try it! It's a mess but simple to do.

    Joeseph: I can't help myself sometimes.

    Arne: There is a right way and a wrong way and I do things is the right way. Watch, listen and learn. Hah! Et Bonne Année a tu aussi!

  9. I'm so west coast that my house is probably falling into the ocean. So take that Paul An-A-Ter! Do you say Anter out east,eh?
    PS I spoke with your dentist and guess who reads your blog? Good luck with your cover story!

  10. Alexandra: Hah!

    Raina: My gums are are as healthy and taut as any tweener's could hope to be.

  11. I'll keep my eyes open for it. I swear they still sell it here, but I haven't given this stuff a thought in decades so I can't be sure.

  12. Honestly, I hadn't thought about it since I was a kid either. But all it took was the merest suggestion.

  13. You should look for Crunch -n- Munch...same thing, bigger box, less the cheesey toy, less the mess. So, I see how your obit will start tomorrow. "While rebelling against the dentist's orders, Paul succombed to death by Cracker Jack wanna be snack."

  14. I went down that road Amy but it wasn't the same thing. Too much like toffee and not enough butterscotch-y caramel. While it was a good stand in, this Cracker Jack Hack is out of this world.

  15. I went through 5+ lbs of sugar this Christmas trying to make salted caramel. I'm trying your recipe for caramel next. Seems so much more straight forward than what I was trying o do. Then...I'll make Cracker Jack. :D

  16. Petunia: The caramel from this recipe cools to something more like a tough taffy than a true caramel. It tastes fantastic but I think you need to be younger than 12 to appreciate a Sugar Daddy. If you add a cup of heavy cream to that caramel recipe it will soften up to the point where grown ups can eat it without losing their molars.

    Fifi: It is and your sons would benefit greatly from their mom tackling this one.

  17. Yum. I had braces when I was 30 years old for about 8 months. I still remember the first box of popcorn I ate at the Iowa State Fair after having the braces removed. I think it was the best popcorn I've ever eaten in my whole life.

  18. Take this recipe with you and impress all of your new British pals.

    Isn't it funny how you can go for years without eating something (like popcorn) and all it takes is a time when you can't eat it to make it into a full-on craving.


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