How, but HOW is it that I’ve never shared this recipe with you, darling readers? I’ve been making and eating this stuff for years, I tell ya. Well, no time like the present to finally get the word out about this fabulously addictive, utterly customizable Candied Party Popcorn. Particularly since the fast-approaching Easter holiday has us all upping our intake of non-wholesome foods in fantastical Spring-like colors, just like the good Lord intended. At least this recipe has lots of popcorn-y fiber and healthy fats from nuts, sure to make your skin and hair glow. Hooray!
So anyway, like I said, I’ve been making versions of this sweet and salty candied popcorn for quite some time, and am so obsessed that a pumped-up Super Vanilla-ized version will be included in the next book. I always find this stuff to be a kryptonite of sorts, which is to say I cannot keep my hands out of a container of it as long as its near my person. For days when More Means More, I love chucking in all sorts of salted nuts and festive things like M&Ms and what not. But really, just the popcorn part all by its lonesome is so dang good, you don’t really need all the bells and whistles.
To make things super fun, you can color the hot sugar syrup any which way you like. I’m no Amy Atlas, but I’ve put together a few festive dessert tables in my day, and candied popcorn colored to match a party theme and piled high in glass jars, all candy shop-style with little silver scoops for serving, never ceases to garner some oohs and ahhs. Just saying.
I’m also a bit of a rabid fan of edible gifts of all sorts, and this stuff fits the bill perfectly. Cellophane bag, cute ribbon, done and done. I’m not crazy enough to suggest you forgo store-bought Easter delights altogether (even though some homemade versions will most certainly help you blow minds and influence others), but if you want something sweet, simple, and totally craveworthy for an extra special Easter basket, this is your golden ticket, friends.
Candied Party Popcorn
Makes about 4 quarts
Since we’re cooking the sugar syrup to the hard crack stage here, keeping the popcorn warm in the oven is key to getting it evenly candied with the syrup and keeping the sugar from setting too quickly.
If you want to make a couple different colors of popcorn, first divide the popcorn onto two prepared sheets. Then you’ve got two options: you can keep a saucepan warm on the stove, pour half the syrup into it, and color the two batches separately. But I recommend picking one primary color and one secondary, to make life easier and keep the syrup hot and malleable without using separate pots. For this batch, I colored the syrup yellow, drizzled half over one sheet of popcorn and tossed it quickly. Then I added a drop of blue to the yellow syrup for green popcorn.
For adding in tasty bits, I usually do about a cup of roasted, salted nuts and half cup of any candy bits. I add the nuts to the popcorn before candy-coating it. When I drizzle everything with white or dark chocolate, I use about 4 ounces.
12 cups popcorn, popped (from about 1/2 cup un-popped kernels)
1½ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 to 1/2 cups of add-ins of your liking (optional, see note)
4 ounces white or dark chocolate, for drizzling (optional, see note)
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or line with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Season the popcorn with salt and remove any un-popped kernels from the popcorn. Pour the popcorn onto the prepared baking sheet and keep it warm in the oven while you prepare the syrup.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water and stir gently to combine. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a pan and boil the syrup, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 300°F.
When the syrup has reached 300°F, pull the pan from the heat and remove the thermometer. Stir in the vanilla, almond extract, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Stir in your food coloring of choice.
Remove the warm pan of popcorn from the oven and quickly pour the syrup over the popcorn in a thin, steady stream. Wearing heatproof gloves or using two wooden spoons, immediately stir and toss the popcorn to coat. Let cool completely on the baking sheet.
When the popcorn has cooled, break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
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