Baking A Difference with Salty Pretzel Vanilla Caramel Corn

Salty Pretzel Vanilla Caramel Corn

Growing up there was always some sort of magic bubbling away in the kitchen.  It was sometimes my Dad’s spaghetti sauce, maybe a baking fruit pie, or a deep amber caramel sauce.  The caramel days were always my favorite… for obvious reasons.

I remember learning how to make caramel as a kid.  Watching the sugar bubble with butter and corn syrup… it felt like I was learning a special science that would unlock an infinite amount of dessert possibilities.  Um… I was. It also felt like I had super powers.  Um.. I did.

Salty Pretzel Vanilla Caramel Corn

Caramel can lead to so many good things, including (but totally not limited to) caramel corn!

I’ve grown up a bit from my early caramel days.  I now adore a good dose of salt with my sweet caramel desserts. Combining buttery popcorn with salty pretzels feels like the perfect mixture of childhood snack and adult cravings, all wrapped together in the quick golden caramel sauce I’ve been making forever. Now, just extra salty.

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This summer I held a charitable bakesale to benefit a local women’s shelter in Los Angeles.  I made S’mores bars, jars of ginger syrup, and sooo many Chocolate Chip Cookies to help the Downtown Women’s Center is LA. So many of you came out to show your support this summer. I mean… it was RAD.  Thank you!  I feel like baking for a good cause is just that much sweeter.

These days I’m partnering with Fleischmann’s Yeast and Karo Syrup to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

Fleischmann’s® Yeast, Fleischmann’s® Simply Homemade® Baking Mixes, and Karo® Syrup are launching the Baking A Difference campaign to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry.  They’re helping to end childhood hunger in America through the power of baking.

It’s actually really cool!  I’ll be working with them to twist their classic recipes for the Baking A Difference e-cookbook that’s going to be released in Spring 2014 as part of the Baking A Difference program.

You can get in on the action too! This September is No Kid Hungry month, and there’s lot of ways you can help: http://actioncenter.nokidhungry.org/.

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Let’s get this sweet treat started!

I know…  the bubbling sugars it takes to make caramel can be a little nerve-racking.  Not to worry!  If I can learn the tricks as a kid, you can totally do it now!   This caramel recipe doesn’t require a candy thermometer.  You can totally get through this with a little coaching if you’re nervous.

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In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and a dash of water.  Give it a stir and that’s it!  Turn on the heat and watch it bubble away for five minutes.  Really… no stirring.  All you have to do is stand there an observe caramel-y bubbles form.

Remove the pan from the heat after five minutes and carefully stir in baking soda and vanilla extract.  The baking soda will cause that key chemical reaction that fluffs the caramel (totally technical term) and the vanilla will add some flavor.  Salt too!  Now is a good time to add a big ol’ pinch!

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The popcorn and pretzels are given a good strong stir to ensure that all of the bits are covered.  Throw the glossy sweet mixture on a baking pan and let it sit in a low oven to dry out and set.  Once it’s rested in the oven, I like to sprinkle it with more sea salt.  Sweet and salty.  I told you I love it!

Once the caramel corn is dried and cooled it will be crisp and chewy and ready to pack into little cups for snacking.  I especially like to take this snack to my friends who worship football every Sunday.  While football may not be my jam (mostly because I don’t know why they’re always blowing whistles), I sure know how to please a crowd on football day.

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I’m trying to cover as many satisfying bases as I can with this caramel corn.  We’ve got the sweet and salty combination suspended in melted butter and vanilla.  We’ve got the crunch from pretzels.  We’ve got the chew from cooked caramel.  And we’re baking for charity!?  I mean.. I think we have it covered.

Salty Pretzel Vanilla Caramel Corn

makes about 14 cups popcorn

adapted from Karo Syrup

about 12 cups popped popcorn

about 2 cups pretzel twists

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 250 degrees F,  Grease a large (but shallow) roasting pan with butter or cooking spray, and add popcorn and pretzels to the pan.

In a 2 quart saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt  Whisk over medium heat until it begins to boil.  Allow to boil over medium heat (without stirring!!) for about 5 minutes.   The mixture will be deep gold and bubbling.

Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the baking soda.  The mixture will foam and froth.  That’s ok.  Keep stirring.  Stir in the vanilla extract.

Quickly pour warm syrup over popcorn and pretzel mixture.  Use to large spoons to toss the mixture, coating all of the popcorn and pretzels in caramel.  Work as quickly as you can.

Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove and toss.  Return to the oven to bake for another 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and toss.  Allow to cool before handling and packaging.

Caramel corn will last up to 4 days well wrapped at room temperature.

88 thoughts on “Baking A Difference with Salty Pretzel Vanilla Caramel Corn

  1. My sister and I are going on a road trip next weekend and we WILL be packing this caramel corn for sure. Baking a Difference sounds wonderful thanks for letting us know about it :-)

  2. Joy, I love your blog and admire your fresh, courageous voice. However, I have to admit, I’m so disappointed in this post. While I fully support the No Hungry Kid campaign, those companies you’re working with are producing exactly the kind of foods we need to get kids to eat less of. Making sure no kid goes hungry–and stays healthy– requires feeding them whole, nutritious foods, not filling them up with corn syrup and pre-fab baking mixes. I applaud your good intentions, but I worry about the messages these companies are sending to our kids and their parents by using the “No Hungry Kid” campaign to advertise junk food to kids. While I’m sure your popcorn is bonkers-good–in the complicated fight against obesity and hunger, we need to prioritize whole foods first and treat foods second. There’s got to be a better way to end hunger and prevent obesity while eating well (and eating the occasional caramel corn). Let’s find a way.

    Thanks and keep up the good work,
    Lindsey Patricia Smith

    1. you know, lindsey. i totally hear your words. and you make some really good points. thank you for taking the time to comment. i definitely approached this partnership with the best of intentions, and i’m certainly not suggesting we end childhood hunger by filling every child with sweet caramel corn. gosh. i wouldn’t want to put anyone through that!

      i understand what you’re saying and i think you’re right about the conversations we need to have. thanks again!

      1. I was a bit disappointed with the corn syrup thing too. What would be a good substitute? Brown rice syrup maybe?
        I love you Joy the Baker!!!

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