With Fat Tuesday just around the corner, I thought I’d try something new this year in addition to my traditional King Cake. I had the idea to make something with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of gold, green, and purple, and I wanted it to resemble beads.
And then it hit me: caramel corn! It’s sweet and decadent, perfect for Fat Tuesday. And with a few drops of food coloring, the caramel turns the popcorn into little sweet salty bead-like nuggets of love.
I searched the ‘net for a caramel corn recipe to use as a base, and ended up taking ingredients, amounts, and techniques from several recipes, which I combined to come up with my own version.
Here are some hints, tips, and tricks to make things easier:
- 2 regular sized bags of microwave popcorn make just the right amount of popcorn. You could also use about 6 quarts of popped regular popcorn.
- Keeping the popcorn warm before adding the caramel will keep the caramel from seizing up and will make it easier to mix.
- If you want more uniformly coated caramel corn, put the popcorn in bowls before adding the caramel. This will allow you to mix it more thoroughly (but will also result in three unnecessary dirty dishes). Using roasting pans or other pans with high sides will also make it easier to stir the caramel corn.
- The caramel has to be used as soon as it’s ready, or it will start to cool and harden, so mise en place it key to this recipe. Having all of your ingredients and equipment set out and at hand will enable you to manage making three separate batches of caramel corn all at once.
- If you want to make an insanely large batch of caramel corn for a party or to give away, you could make three separate batches, one of each color. In that case, you could bake each batch of caramel corn on two pans.
- Spraying the measuring cup before measuring the corn syrup will make the sticky syrup slide right out of the cup.
- I like the mixture of light and dark brown sugars, as it gives the caramel corn a nice color and depth of flavor; but you could use 2 cups of either.
- When adding the food coloring, remember — less is more. Start with just a few drops and mix it in well before adding more. You can always add more food coloring, but you can’t take it out. I used a bit too much in my purple batch, as the caramel was a deep golden color, and I thought it would take quite a bit to color it. It really doesn’t take much at all.
- If you like nuts in your caramel corn, add 2 cups peanuts, pecans, or mixed nuts to the popcorn in the pans before adding the caramel.
- Run the saucepans and spoons under hot water as soon as you’re finished with them. The caramel will scrape off easily.
Mardi Gras Caramel Corn
- 2 bags Natural microwave popcorn
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- purple and green food coloring
- Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 200°F. Line three roasting or jellyroll pans with foil and grease with cooking spray.
- Pop popcorn and divide evenly among the three pans. Place pans in oven to keep popcorn warm.
- Measure vanilla and baking soda into small prep bowls and set near stove. Fill small saucepan with hot water and set aside.
- Place butter, brown sugars, corn syrup, and salt in large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter and sugars melt and mixture comes to a boil. As soon as it boils, stop stirring and set a timer for 4 minutes. While the caramel is cooking, empty and dry the small saucepan, setting on the stovetop to stay warm, and take one pan of popcorn out of the oven. When the timer goes off, remove the saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda. The mixture will foam up a bit at first.
- Pour 1/3 of the caramel over the first pan of popcorn and immediately return the pan to the oven (don’t stir the popcorn). Pour another 1/3 of the caramel into the small sauce pan. Set the large saucepan aside.
- Add a few drops of purple food coloring to the caramel in the small pan and mix well, adding more food coloring if necessary to get the desired color. Remove a second pan of popcorn from the oven, pour the purple caramel over the popcorn, and return the pan immediately to the oven (don’t stir the popcorn).
- Add a few drops of green food coloring to the caramel in the large pan and mix well with a clean spoon, adding more food coloring if necessary to get the desired color. Remove the third pan of popcorn from the oven, pour the green caramel over the popcorn, and stir the popcorn to coat with caramel. Return the pan to the oven, then take the other pans out one at a time and mix well, using a different spoon for each pan.
- Bake the caramel corn for 60 minutes, taking the pans out to stir well every 15 minutes.
- Dump the caramel corn out onto waxed paper and use a wooden spoon to break up any big chunks. Allow to cool, then mix all three colors together and store in an airtight container.
Makes about 22 cups.