Sunday, December 28, 2014

Get Smackalackin' Caramel Corn Tonight

While checking out the new magazine Naturally, Danny Seo, I read an article about Johnny Iuzzini and his choice to leave the restaurant business. He was tired of the grind, moved back to the Catskills, and decided that he is going to do things that feed his soul. One of those things is writing cookbooks. His second of which, Sugar Rush, has a killer recipe for a sweet and savory caramel corn. Folks, it's got chopped bacon in it. Whaaaaat?

The recipe
Now, I don't normally reach for sugar when I am snacking. I much prefer mozzarella or nachos to anything sweet. However, I've been looking for recipes for our wedding dessert table, something I can make in advance that will hold nice and be fun, and this seemed to fit the bill.

But first, I had to try it... and test it out on the family.

Important thing to note, the kosher salt (I used David's) and baking soda, help give the right texture to the caramel, so never omit it, and follow the instructions to the nose. I also used really good bacon from my local meat shop, Denville Meat Shop, and it definitely was the right choice. Don't skimp on your choice of bacon.

As I was making the recipe, I realized it was incomplete. It calls for two silpat lined baking sheets, but doesn't explain how, or when, to use them (and the photo in the magazine shows it on the silpat). The recipe just sort of ends prematurely.

I had to do a little research to find out how a caramel corn recipe is finished, and couldn't find Iuzzini's recipe online, so until my copy of Sugar Rush arrives (I desperately ordered it), I won't know for sure how he finishes the popcorn. But I can share what I did, which worked. It worked so well that the kids kept walking back to the kitchen for seconds, and thirds, and I, not normally a fan of caramel corn, was eating it by the fistful.

They didn't notice the bacon (you probably won't either), but having it in there just makes it a bit more special.

My final product, first time around.

I also didn't realize that {gasp} I was out of maple syrup (which is called for in the recipe), so I used a little extra corn syrup and that was just fine. I definitely missed the maple flavor, though, so I will be making it again, soon, to try and make it just a tad bit better. If you try it, let me know how yours turns out!

Johnny Iuzzini's Smack Caramel Corn
Source: Naturally, Danny Seo Winter 2015 magazine (from Johnny Iuzzini's Sugar Rush cookbook)

  • 8 slices bacon
  • vegetable oil spray
  • 1 ½ cups plain unsalted roasted peanuts
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • ¾ c (packed) dark brown sugar
  • ¼ c pure maple syrup
  • ¼ c light corn syrup
  • 6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 T kosher salt
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 12 c popped popcorn

Preheat oven to 200*F. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning several times, for 6 – 8 minutes, until very crisp and the fat is rendered. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour the bacon fat through a fine-mesh strainer into a heat proof bowl. Measure 3 T of the fat and reserve; discard the remaining fat or reserve for another use. Once the bacon has cooled, finely chop it and set it aside.

Spray a large stainless-steel bowl lightly with cooking spray, add the nuts to it, and put the bowl in the oven to warm. Spray two large spoons or rubber spatulas with cooking spray and set them aside.

I didn't have a bowl so I put them into a stainless pan and put that in the oven.
Put the granulated sugar, brown sugar, maple and corn syrups, butter, and reserved bacon fat into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Swirl the pan gently to mix the ingredients but DO NOT STIR. Cook, brushing the side of the pan down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until the temperature on a candy thermometer reads 290*.

I did medium heat and it took about 25 minutes. Next time, I'll go hotter.

Stir together the salt and baking soda, add them to the caramel, and remove the pan from the heat. Be careful, the caramel will form up; stir it with a wooden spoon until the mixture stops foaming. Remove the bowl from the oven and add the nuts to the caramel, stirring to combine. Put the popcorn and chopped bacon into the warm bowl and pour the caramel mixture over it; using the greased spoons, toss the popcorn quickly and keep tossing for about 1 minute, until it’s very evenly coated.

Do NOT do it this way! I had clumps. Spread the popcorn out on a flat sheet,
drizzle caramel, and toss with greased (clean) hands.

(My addition, per similar recipe research.) Pour onto baking sheets and warm for thirty minutes at 200, tossing every 15 mins.