I grew up eating Cracker Jack…the candied peanuts, caramel popcorn and the “prize in every box” treat. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how darn easy it is to make caramel popcorn with peanuts…and very inexpensive too.
Most people don’t realize that Cracker Jack has been around for a very long time. Introduced at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago’s First World’s Fair) the original recipe was made with molasses and not caramel. The recipe was changed in 1896 to the caramel that millions of people have come to know…and the name was trademarked at that time when a salesman for the business said “That’s crackerjack”. So the name stuck and recipe have stuck for well over a century.
I’ve made various recipes of caramel popcorn over the years but it wasn’t until I read the recipe that Colt and Gray in Denver makes that I was inspired to adapt their recipe to my way of cooking caramel popcorn. Since bacon continues to be such a unique ingredient in everything from panna cotta to sweet pastries I decided to try adding it to popcorn.
The following recipe is flexible. If you want more cashews go ahead and add them. If you don’t like cashews use peanuts or pecans instead. If you want spicier popcorn add more chile powder or a hotter variety of chile powder. If you want less spice don’t use chile powder at all. You can also try different types of bacon…bacon rubbed with black pepper, smoked bacon or try something totally unusual like I did and use lamb bacon.
Popcorn with Caramel, Cashews, Chile Powder and Bacon
- 1 Cup popcorn kernels (divided)
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil (divided) (No oil necessary if using an air popper)
- 8 ounces raw bacon, chopped
- 1/2 cup cashews (use more if you want)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon chile powder (I’ve used Chipotle or Chimayo you can use Cayenne for lots of heat or a mixture such as chili powder you buy in the spice aisle)
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream at room temperature
- 3 cups of granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons of corn syrup either light or dark
Make the popcorn in 2 batches. For each batch put 3 tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a heavy pot along with 1/2 cup of the popcorn kernels and cover the pot but leave the lid slightly ajar to let out the steam. Place the pot onto medium to medium high heat and when the popcorn starts to pop swish popcorn around the pan. As the popping slows down remove pan so the popcorn doesn’t burn. When done popping put the popcorn in a large heat resistant bowl. Repeat the process with the remaining 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels and 3 tablespoons of oil.
Cook the bacon in a large skillet until it is cooked, but not crisp. Drain the bacon on a paper towel. When the bacon is cool add it along with the cashews, salt and chile powder to the bowl of popcorn. Toss to coat. Preheat the oven to 325.
Line 2 rimmed 10×15 cookie sheets with foil and coat with non-stick spray. Coat 2 wooden spoons or 2 heat resistant spatulas with non-stick spray.
Put the sugar in a heavy pot and place on medium high heat. As the sugar starts to melt add in the corn syrup. Stir the sugar until melted and a nice brown caramel color and the mixture is bubbling. Remove from the heat and add in the room temperature cream. Be careful because this will cause a lot of steam. Continue to stir and place back on the heat for about 2 minutes.
While the caramel is still very hot drizzle it over the popcorn in the bowl, I do this in batches. Toss the mixture with the spoons or spatulas. Continue adding the caramel until you use it up. Transfer the popcorn mixture to the 2 baking sheets and place in the oven
for 15 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally to get the popcorn completely coated and dried out. Take out of the oven and place the baking sheets on a cooling rack. When cool break up the pieces and serve. You can put the popcorn in zip lock bags to store.