Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bacon & Cashew Caramel Corn (2010's best party food)

This recipe was the most popular party food I made in 2010.  I realize the year isn't over yet, but that's how confidant I am that this will remain the runaway front-runner.  I brought this to several parties and watched the everyone's eyes light up (adults and small children alike).  It may sound strange to you, but trust me on this one (have I ever steered you wrong)?

Be sure to have everything else prepped before your caramel syrup is ready to pour...last time I made this I forgot to toss my bacon and cashews in first and in a mad dash to get them in before my caramel syrup starting seizing up, I burned my hand (nothing serious, but it did hurt).  I'd do it again though (that's how tasty this stuff is).

Makes about 20 cups

3/4 cup popcorn kernels
3 tablespoons coconut oil (can substitute vegetable or canola oil)
16 oz. bacon (cooked until almost crisp, drained, cooled and chopped)
2 cups unsalted raw cashews
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown rice syrup (can substitute light corn syrup)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 oolong tea bags
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt
pinch of cayenne pepper 
1.      Heat popcorn and oil in covered heavy, large pot over medium-high heat until kernels begin to pop. Shake pot until popping stops. (Or you can use a hot-air popper and skip the oil.)  Pour popcorn into a gigantic bowl (the largest one you can find). 
2.      Add bacon and cashews to bowl with popcorn and toss. 
3.      Preheat oven to 300° F. (or 290º F. for convection setting).  Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Coat 2 heat resistant spatulas with oil; set aside. 
4.      Stir sugar, water, and brown rice syrup in large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high; boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 20-25 minutes. 
5.      While caramel syrup cooks, bring cream and tea bags just to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat; let steep 15 minutes, occasionally pressing on tea bags with back of spoon to release flavor.  Discard tea bags. 
6.      When caramel syrup is ready, remove from heat.  Immediately add salt, cayenne and cream; quickly stir until blended (mixture will bubble up).  Immediately drizzle caramel over popcorn mixture; toss with oiled spatulas until evenly coated. Transfer to baking sheets. 

7.      Place caramel corn in oven; bake until caramel is shiny and coats popcorn, tossing mixture occasionally, about 30-40 minutes. Cool completely, tossing occasionally to break up large clumps.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight in refrigerator.

adapted from recipe by Colt and Gray restaurant in Denver, CO (published in Bon Appetit)

Tip for the peanut-challenged:  I order my cashews from their nuts and seeds are processed in a peanut-free facility (very exciting when someone you love is allergic to peanuts, but not tree nuts)!


"The Teacher / Mommy" said...

This may be one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. EVER! The first thing you think when you hear "Bacon, Cashew, Caramel Corn" is "Huh, that must be awesome!" and then you taste it and the ability to think drains right out of your head.

At my gathering, that this was brought to, no one could get enough. Superb!

Kimberley Hiner said...

Hi Susan - I'm going to try this one for certain! Why the tea and cream?

Susan said...

I think the tea is just for flavor (albeit subtle).

I think the cream helps the consistency and the texture & taste might both suffer a little without it (but technically the recipe would probably still work).

Let me know how it turns out!

Jennifer Monroe said...

You amaze me even more now that I've performed this recipe in person. How do you have time to do all the wonderful cooking?

If anyone wonders, it's delicious without the tea, and even if you sort of botch it all up. :)

Susan said...

Jennifer - I'm so glad it worked out.

To answer your question, I often choose cooking over cleaning or getting other important things done. So it's just a matter of dropping the ball in other areas of my life. I wouldn't want to lead anyone to believe I can do it all (not possible).

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