Caramel Jacks Recipe
Homemade Popcorn Jacks
A.K.A. Caramel Corn with Nuts
In 1893 Frederick William Rueckheim mass produced a caramel popcorn and peanut mixture to sell it
at the first Chicago World's Fair. At that time it was a mixture of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts and was called "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts". The recipe is almost certainly based on a homemade desert from the mid-west.
This recipe is a home version of a popular boxed "baseball snack" made fashionable at the turn of the last century. Though it's easy to make it is time consuming and could be dangerous (high heat is required for mixing) for small children to help make.
As with all my recipes it's more about technique than ingredients.
Required are cool unsalted popcorn, nuts, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup (or honey), nuts (peanuts or other nuts) and vanilla.
Start with about three quarts (an ounce weight per quart) of popcorn made earlier or from the previous day. You will also need some two baking sheets, non-stick spray, and parchment paper.
You will want to bake the finished product to drive out any remaining moisture in the popcorn and crystallize the candy coating. The syrup or honey will prevent the formation of sugar crystals and give you a smooth, yet crunchy candy coating. Though the recipe calls for peanuts I strongly recommend experimenting with different nuts for slightly different flavors. I'm particularly fond of cashews in this recipe.
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Kitchen Tools & Ingredients
- Two cookie sheets
- Non stick spray
- Parchment paper cut to fit cookie sheets
- Large bowl
- Medium sized sauce pan
- Candy thermometer
- 3 ounces (quarts) popcorn
- 4 ounces (½ stick) of butter
- 1 Cup nuts (peanuts or other)
- 16 ounces (2 cups) dark brown sugar
- ¼ Cup Corn Syrup (or substitute)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla (or substitute
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Set your oven to 250° (122° Celsius). Add together the popcorn and nuts in a bowl and set aside. Spray the cookie sheets and the parchment paper with non-stick spray. Place the paper on the sheets.
Place your saucepan with candy thermometer over medium low heat and add the half stick of butter. Let the butter melt completely. Into the pan add the sugar, syrup, and vanilla. Heat and gently stir the mixture until it reaches 250° (122° Celsius) for a period of ten minutes.
You will need to work very quickly from this point on. Add the candy mixture to the popcorn & nut mixture with a large spoon or spatula. Work quickly to mix together the candy and popcorn. As the mixture is still warm spread it out on the cookie sheets to a single layer. Immediately place these in the oven at 250° (122° Celsius) for one hour.
At the end of the hour remove from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container to keep your "jacks" crisp.
As I said above I like to use cashews instead of peanuts, but you can also try other nuts like pistachios, pecans, or walnuts. You might even consider using mixed nuts.
You can also substitute rum extract or other extracts for vanilla or even add other flavorings along with the vanilla.
If you are leary of using corn syrup (I am) you can substitute honey.
Popcorn is very high in fiber so it is a healthy food. Also, making your own insures that you use the ingredients you find most healthful. Finally, by modifying the flavorings and other ingredients you can actually create a much tastier treat than the original.