Toasted almond caramel corn
Hello, I’m Captain Ahab and dairy-free caramel corn is my white whale. Seriously. I had intended to post this weeks ago, but after a day with 8-hours or so of failed caramel experiments I gave up and posted a salad. I’m not sure exactly when the idea of attempting to make a butter-less caramel corn popped into my head, but it probably had something to do with the idea of curling up on the couch and watching Elf (smiling’s my favorite). I am a total popcorn/kettle corn/caramel corn fiend. My tidy husband can testify to the kernel remnants that he finds in the oddest places around our house (mostly between couch cushions and sometimes in the bed after a late night snack). Craving my favorite snack, I decided to simply whip up a batch of caramel corn that eliminates the butter, corn syrup and refined sugar that you typically find in such a treat. Ha! Batch after batch after batch of my caramel corn attempts were complete disasters. The first few times the caramel was a total mess and then once I finally got that right, I poured it over the popcorn and the whole thing fizzled into a soggy pile of goo. Did I stop? Eventually, but not until I ran out of ingredients, burnt the daylights out of one of my favorite pots, it was too dark to take pictures and I had the shakes from sampling so much freaking caramel! Once I finally stepped away from the caramel and had a few days to process my failings I began to make sense of what happened. My biggest mistake was that I wasn’t really making caramel, but more of a dulce de leche by combining brown sugar with coconut milk. I was able to get it to a place where it had a great consistency, but the coconut milk had a high enough water content that it was dissolving the popcorn.
A couple of weeks passed and the
white whale caramel corn idea kept popping back into my head, so I stubbornly decided to give it another go. Luckily for my poor, abused pots and pans, it worked! Instead of using coconut milk as my base I used coconut oil, which has no water content, and that made all of the difference. The popcorn was no longer shriveling under the caramel, but was totally standing up to the molten sauce being poured over it. Phew! I’m not going to claim that this is health food as there is a fair bit of sugar and fat in this recipe, but I was able to find ingredients that I feel good about eating and that elevate the flavors a bit. Instead of regular brown sugar, I used a light brown, unrefined muscovado sugar, and I replaced the usual corn syrup with an eco-farmed, gluten free, brown rice syrup. Then there’s the almonds, which in my opinion, help offset the sweetness of the caramel. I tossed them with some salted water and baked them until they were nice and toasty.
If you’ve read this, I thank you for following along with my nerdy experiment. Speaking of nerdy, Moby Dick is the only book I ever read the CliffsNotes for instead of the actual book. Busted!
Toasted almond caramel corn recipe
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons melted extra virgin coconut oil
2 cups raw almonds
3 teaspoons hot water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large pot with a lid. Place 4-5 popcorn kernels inside the pot and cover. Once those kernels have popped add the rest of the kernels, swirling them around in the oil, cover the pot and remove from heat for 30 seconds. Return the pot to the heat with the cover slightly askew to release some of the steam, and proceed to pop the rest of the kernels. While they are popping, make sure the kernels are moving around a bit by shaking the pan over the heat source. Once the popping has ceased, remove the pan from the heat and uncover. You should have about 8 cups of popped corn. Set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 375. Mix 2 teaspoons of kosher salt into 3 teaspoons of hot water until dissolved. Put almonds on high rimmed baking sheet and toss well with the salted water. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring half way through. Remove from oven and mix in a large bowl with the popped corn. Set aside.
Turn the oven down to 200 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Set aside.
In a heavy bottom sauce pan, mix the light muscavado sugar with 1 cup of melted coconut oil and the brown rice syrup. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly. It will go through various stages and there will be a long period of time where the oil is completely separated from the sugar and syrup. It will begin to boil a little, so take care not to get splashed by the boiling oil. Continue to stir and you will see the sugar starting to lighten up. Once this happens pay very close attention and as soon as the ingredients begin to come together, take it off heat and add the vanilla, baking soda and salt. The baking soda will cause the caramel to foam up a bit. Continue to stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Carefully stir the hot caramel sauce into the bowl with the popped corn and almonds and mix until everything is coated well. Put the popcorn mixture on the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 200 for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.