The Best Caramel Popcorn Recipe Ever!

I'm going to keep it short this week, after the emotional intensity of the Boston Marathon tragedy and the Jason Bourne-style manhunt. But before I jump straight into a recipe for caramel popcorn, I want to share a link to this story from the Associated Press.

It's not about the Tsarnaev brothers, and there's nothing incredibly sensational about it. In fact, this article has been posted on ABC News, Yahoo News, Newsday, and various other local sites; yet, it's only garnered a small fraction of the tweets, shares, and likes that most stories about the marathon generated. It's a collection of anecdotes -- brief glimpses -- into the lives of those who survived the marathon, but were forever changed because they lost limbs, or a significant portion of their hearing.

Some of these people started funding campaigns and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than a week. Below is a picture of Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, a mother and daughter who are both in the hospital as I write this. Celeste (the mother) lost both of her legs below the knee, and Sydney suffered severe injuries from being hit by shrapnel. If you click on their picture, it will take you to their funding site where you can donate, read updates, and hear more of their stories. My hope, now that the bad guys have been caught, is that the media and the nation will shift their attention to these 170 plus people who need our support and encouragement more than ever.

In the meantime, I present you with Thomas Keller's Caramel Popcorn recipe from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. You might have noticed I'm calling it "the best caramel popcorn recipe ever" and I am totally serious. Take one bite into the buttery, sugary, saltiness, and I guarantee you'll be addicted. It's far from the healthiest thing you'll ever eat, but it's easy to make, and it works well as an occasional treat.

The Best Caramel Popcorn Recipe. Ever.

Raw popcorn kernels        1/2 cup (once popped, this should make a total of 10 cups)
Canola oil                         4 Tbsp.
Raw, salted Peanuts          225 grams, or 1 1/2 cups
Water                               112 grams, or 1/2 cup
Granulated sugar               225 grams, or 1 cup
Brown sugar                     112 grams, or 1/2 cup
Light corn syrup                100 grams, or 1/4 cup
Unsalted butter                  5 Tbsp., or 1/2 cube + 1 Tbsp.        
Baking soda                      9 grams, or 2 tsp.                  
Kosher salt                       13 grams, or 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.

If you've got a popcorn machine, then hooray for you! Go ahead and skip these first few steps. If you don't have a popcorn machine, we're going to have to do this the old fashioned way:

Get out a really large pot with a lid -- like, the kind you would use for making soup. Cover the bottom with canola oil, then place 3 popcorn kernels inside. Place it on the stove at medium heat, put the lid on top, and wait until all 3 of the kernels start to pop.

Take the pan off the heat, add the remaining popcorn kernels, stir them around to make sure they're in an even layer along the bottom, then cover the pan for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, the kernels should all be roughly the same temperature, and will therefore pop more evenly. (The goal here is for all of them to pop and for none of them to burn.)

Place the pot back on the stove and wait for all the kernels to pop. Turn off the heat, uncover, and dump the majority of the popcorn (around 8 cups worth) into a very large bowl. Set the other two cups aside, and move on to making the caramel.

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the peanuts in an even layer on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Combine the water, sugars, corn syrup, and butter in a large, nonstick sauce pan. Melt over medium heat, and stir frequently with a wooden spoon. If you've got a candy thermometer that reads really high temperatures, (mine doesn't seem to, so I've kind of given up on it . . .) wait until the thermometer reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit and then remove it from the stove. Otherwise, wait about 11 minutes -- until the mixture is nice and gooey and bubbly -- then assume it's about the right temp and remove it.

Take caution as you stir in the salt and baking powder, as the caramel mixture will get super frothy and expand towards the top of the sauce pan. Next, add the peanuts, and  pour the entire mixture on top of the popcorn. Add the remaining 2 cups of popcorn, then use 2 wooden spoons -- both coated in nonstick cooking spray -- to mix the everything until it's evenly coated.

* NOTE: I used the biggest bowl I owned, and it still wasn't quite big enough to mix the popcorn properly, so I coated a cookie sheet in nonstick cooking spray, and dumped the popcorn on top of that. I also wore a pair of latex gloves, as TK (Thomas Keller) recommends, and mixed the popcorn by hand on top of the cookie sheet, pulling apart clumps, and ensuring an even caramel coating. The mixing is probably the toughest part of this recipe, but heat-resistant gloves are the key to doing it well.

Bon appetit!