The Christmas cookie and I are on a break. We had a nice run last week baking and frosting dozens of cookies in the shapes of trees, stockings and stars, rolling almond snowballs in powdery sugar and putting dollops of pudding in marbled thumbprint cookies.
But this week, I needed some space from the Christmas cookie. I realized it was time to play the field a bit and find another holiday treat that fits the bill — something that fills my kitchen with scents of butter and spice — but did not resemble a cookie in any way, shape or form. I spied a bag of popcorn kernels on my shelf and a plan began to form. I remembered seeing a recipe online for gingerbread caramel corn and so began my first date with caramel corn.
Like many first dates, not everything went according to plan. My first batch of popcorn burned and had to be thrown away. Then half of my caramel corn burned while crisping in the oven. In the end, I was able to overlook these snafus and find enjoyment in the buttery, spicy caramel corn that I did not have to cut out, frost or garnish — a little bite of Christmas without all the effort or mess. A second date is definitely in our future.
Gingerbread Caramel Corn
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
In small bowl, mix together vanilla, soda and spices until it forms a paste. If necessary, add a dash of water.
Melt butter, sugar, corn syrup, molasses and salt in large pot over medium heat. Once melted, raise heat to medium-high and let it come to boil, stirring constantly, for 5 to 10 minutes or until the caramel is bubbling and a dark amber color.
Take the pot off the heat and stir in the spice paste. Stir vigorously until the paste is completely incorporated and the mixture becomes light and frothy. Pour in the popcorn 6 cups at a time and incorporate fully after each addition.
Spread the popcorn onto two baking sheets and place in the oven. Rotate the cookie sheets and stir the popcorn every 15 minutes for 45 minutes total (If you want your popcorn to have more of a gooey texture, remove after 15 to 20 minutes). Take out of the oven and stir one more time before letting it cool. Store in an airtight container once cooled completely.
Source: Adapted from heatherchristo.com