What I'm Snacking On: Maple Caramel Corn

I am a total sucker for a good cookbook. In fact, I think the majority of the books I borrow from the library these days are cookbooks -- there are just so many good ones to check out! (Pun intended.) And I have to admit I like to test-drive a cookbook before deciding if I should purchase a copy for my personal library -- which is probably a good thing since I already have an entire bookcase devoted to cookbooks.

Yeah, I might have a bit of a problem. But, I suppose of all the vices out there, a cookbook addiction really isn't too terrible. My latest find is The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Cherlina. From the title alone, I knew this cookbook would be right up my alley. And it absolutely is. The photos are gorgeous, the recipes are clear and not at all intimidating, and  the author begins each recipe with a charming story. What's not to like?

After paging though the book (while trying not to drool on the pages, if I'm being brutally honest), I decided that the first recipe I'd try would be maple popcorn. We are popcorn fiends around this house, though we typically go with simple butter and salt toppings for our air-popped or stove-popped popcorn. I haven't made caramel corn in a while, and with the maple syrup season just completed, I figured now was a good time to put some of that sweet arboreal nectar to use. (Not that I really need an excuse to use maple syrup, but I digress...)

This maple caramel corn is quite simple to make and tastes delicious. It's not cloyingly sweet as some caramel corns can be, and the maple caramel topping adds just the right amount of crunchiness to the popcorn. Long story short, we gobbled down this sweet snack within about 12 hours. And eight of those hours were spent sleeping. I think it's about time to make another batch...

Maple Caramel Corn (printer-friendly version)
makes about 9 cups

1/2 cup unsalted butter; plus additional to butter bowl and baking dish
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Butter a 9" x 13" baking dish and a large bowl.
2. Pop the popcorn using your favorite method. (I used an air popper.) Place the popcorn in the buttered bowl. (If using an air popper, don't pop directly into the buttered bowl, otherwise you may have to fish out the unpopped kernels, as I had to.)
3. In a medium sauce pot, melt the butter with the maple syrup, sugar, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and allow it to cook, without stirring, for five minutes. After five minutes, carefully add in the baking soda and vanilla and stir to combine -- the mixture will steam and foam up.
4. Carefully pour about one cup of the sugar mixture over the popcorn and stir to coat. Add in the remaining sugar mixture and stir again, ensuring that all the popcorn is evenly coated.
5. Transfer the popcorn into the buttered baking dish.
6. Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before transferring into an airtight container. The maple caramel corn can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three weeks (good luck making it last that long without eating it!), or frozen in a freezer-safe container for up to six months.

(lightly adapted from a recipe in The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila)