Cracker Jack was always one of my favorite treats, and it wasn’t because of the surprise inside, which was usually something like an aluminum engagement ring (remember Breakfast at Tiffany’s?) or a plastic elephant or a tiny comic book. For me, it was all about that
crunchy sweet and salty caramel-coated popcorn. I also loved the peanuts, which, sadly, were never plentiful enough for me. To compensate for the deficit of peanuts in all those boxes of Cracker Jack that I consumed as a child, I came up with my own adult
version of the sweet, making it all about the peanuts. To achieve this, I flavored the caramel mixture with some creamy peanut butter and added lots of salty-sweet honey-roasted peanuts. The kicker is the addition of bits of chopped chocolate-covered pretzels that are
folded in at the end. The chocolate melts a bit and ends of coating some of the popcorn, which you don’t notice until you’re actually eating a cluster. It’s a little surprise, and way better than a miniature plastic giraffe, don’t you agree?
Sweet and Salty Chocolate-Peanut Butter Caramel Corn
Makes about 13 cups (enough to serve 6 reasonable people, or me)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup (112 g) unpopped popcorn
2/3 (80 g) cup honey-roasted peanuts
¾ cup (162 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup (246 g) light corn syrup
3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (128 g) creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup (70 g) coarsely chopped chocolate-covered pretzels
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a large rimmed baking pan (or half sheet pan) with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and spray it lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Place the oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover, leaving the cover slightly open at one end to let the steam escape, and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until the popping slows, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and, when the popping has ceased, transfer the popcorn to a large stainless steel bowl and stir in the honey-roasted peanuts.
3. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until completely melted. Stir in the vanilla. Pour about ¼ of the caramel over the popcorn (BE CAREFUL, THIS STUFF IS HOT!), tossing it with a wooden spoon until some of it is completely coated. (ALSO, THE BOWL WILL GET HOT!) Continue adding the caramel, ¼ at a time, until the popcorn is completely coated. Spread the mixture onto the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, stirring it after 15 minutes, then again after 30 minutes of baking. Sprinkle the chopped pretzels over the corn and bake for another 15 minutes. Stir until blended. Cool completely.