So…do you have all of your Christmas shopping done yet? This is the question that keeps haunting me. Everyone has been asking me this with the holiday drawing near and quite frankly, no I don’t! I mean, I have the main gifts purchased- for my mom, dad, sister and the fiancé…but there are a lot of people that I want to give a little something to, but I have no idea what to get them.
The holidays can be so overwhelming, can’t they? Well I’m here to tell you that those gifts for friends, coworkers, teachers and whomever else you want to give a little something to this season don’t have to be expensive or time consuming! Earlier this month, I came across Chunky Caramel Popcorn. I made it in the Test Kitchens, and once I set it out, it disappeared in minutes. And there my idea was born- I could give this sweet treat for gifts! I’m no Martha Stewart, and I definitely am not the go-to person for intricate, homemade gifts…but this was so easy to put together and I even managed to package it up nicely. I must say that this is a great gift to give. 1) it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg to make, 2) it stores and travels well, and 3) who doesn’t love salty, sweet treats?
So here we go. First thing you want to do is heat your oven to 250°F. This temperature may seem a little low, but it’s just enough heat to keep the caramel warm and easy to stir during baking so everything gets coated. Get a big roasting pan to put your popcorn, cashews and pecans in. I used pre-popped bagged popcorn, but you could always pop your own. If you don’t have a roasting pan, you could always divide the mixture up into two 13x9” pans.
Combine the brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.
Stir the mixture occasionally, until it starts to boil.
Keep boiling it for 2 more minutes.
Now, remove the caramel mixture from the heat, and stir in the baking soda. The baking soda helps give the caramel a lighter texture. This part is almost like a science experiment- I always love watching how the mixture starts to rise and change into an almost foamy texture.
After the baking soda is well-incorporated, pour it over the popcorn mixture in your pan.
Stir it well, making sure that most of the popcorn is coated.
Set your kitchen timer for 60 minutes. I’ve found it helps to have another timer to remind you to stir every 15 minutes- just reset it for 15 minutes after every time you stir. In total, you will stir the mixture 4 times.
After the 60 minutes is up, remove the pan from the oven and pour the mixture onto waxed paper or parchment paper.
Let it cool completely. Although you might be tempted to break it up, wait until it is cooled completely. Not saying you can’t sneak a few popcorn kernels- I’ll admit that I may have snacked on a few.
After the popcorn has cooled, place 1 cup of chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon of shortening in a plastic sandwich bag.
Microwave for 30-45 seconds, and then knead the bag to mix it up.
Continue microwaving at 15 second intervals, until the chocolate is completely melted. Snip a small corner off of the bag, and voila- you have an easy way to drizzle the chocolate over the popcorn.
You don’t have to go with a certain pattern here, just drizzle over all of the cooled popcorn.
Repeat this process with ½ cup of white chocolate and ½ teaspoon of shortening. Once it is melted, drizzle the white mixture over the popcorn.
How pretty is that? Now try to resist snacking. It’s hard. Really hard.
Let the chocolate set up completely, which can take about 3 hours. Once it is set, break up the popcorn into pieces.
I like to leave mine a little chunky (hence the name, Chunky Caramel Popcorn). Not every kernel has to be separated.
Now comes the crafty part. I found some ribbon and decorative bags at a local craft store to pack my popcorn in. This makes for a pretty presentation, and it’s really simple. You could also use a holiday-themed tin to package it if you plan on mailing the popcorn.
Another way to make your gift special is to buy a pretty bowl to put the popcorn in. You can find bowls like this for a relatively low price- I’m always bargain hunting at discount stores or the clearance section in department stores. Plus, whoever is receiving this present can use the bowl again. It’s like two gifts in one!
Place a large piece of colored cellophane (you can find this at any craft store) under the popcorn-filled bowl…
…and pull it up on all sides, securing it with a pretty ribbon. Not too shabby!
I also used some of the craft bags with ribbon to pack the rest of the caramel corn. There are endless possibilities on how to package this!
Give Chunky Caramel Popcorn a try for a gift this year and let me know how you decided to package it!
Come back in a few days and Becky will be sharing a Christmas Eve tradition.
Mallory is a consultant for the Test Kitchens at Land O'Lakes and writes for our Recipe Buzz® Blog.