Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Big Sticky Carmel Covered Mess

As I was growing up, my mother worked about 50 hours a week and had 3 very curious and somewhat fearless children at home. So, trust me when I say I in no way begrudge her for sticking to holiday baking and decorating in place of holiday candy-making during my formative years. But, this does mean that I never had much chance for observational learning on candy-making procedure around my house, and thus that I never mastered the art of the truffle, the brittle, or even the crispy-treat.

This year I was at a complete loss for what to get my dad for Christmas. He is the sort of guy who has everything that he wants, and if he didn't he would go to the Goodwill, the hardware store, or JC Pennys and get it. So, shopping for him is pretty much futile. One thing that I do know about my dad, though, is that he has a bit of a sweet tooth. Via the midmorning coffee break, lunchtime cookies, and after dinner desserts, he finds ways to sneak little treats into his day. He doesn't often buy it for himself, but if there is a sweet and salty treat around the house, he'll find his way into it eventually. I knew that there would be plenty of holiday cookies around the house at Christmas time, but there is one time-honored holiday treat that no one makes at that house: Carmel Corn.

Busy with finals and other holiday baking I didn't have a chance to make it in my tiny apartment kitchen. Luckily I got to my parents home a day early to take care of their dog in their absence, and had a big beautiful kitchen at my disposal. You know you're getting old, by the way, when your parents leave town and leave you in charge of the house and rather than throw a party you're excited to use their kitchen...

When it comes to making things that are bad for you, I trust Paula Deen, so I snagged her recipe from the Food Network website and got to work. Step one was to make popcorn on the stove, another thing I had never done before. So, in the true spirit of observational learning, I called upon youtube. Then armed with 8 quarts of popped corn I carefully followed Paula's recipe and, naturally, ended up with molten caramel all over pretty much every surface in the kitchen, including myself. You see, Paula doesn't offer any advice on how to mix the caramel with the popcorn. In a bowl? In a pan? On a cookie sheet? Help me out here, Paula. Eventually, now covered in caramel, I devised a plan to mix the caramel with the popcorn in the big 8 quart saucepan that I used to make the popcorn in two batches. Then, I somehow rangeled it all into two glass baking sheets and popped it in the oven for an hour.
When it came out, failing to read Paula's direction about cooling on waxed paper, I decided to let it cool in the pans. This was the wrong decision. Three hours later I had two unbreakable bricks of popcorn.

Back in the oven it went, at least for a minute or two so I could break up the bricks. It didn't help a lot, but I eventually got the popcorn out and broken. It is far more crumbled than I would have liked, and looks a little bit like it got beat with a baseball bat. The kitchen was a big sticky mess, by this point, covered in hardened sugar. So, I enlisted the help of my trusty assistant Molly to clean up while I packaged the gift.
Obviously, I have little to no concept of volume, as I seemed to think that 8 quarts of caramel corn would fit into one little 2 liter jar. So, I crammed as much as I could into the jar to wrap, and just hid the rest in gallon sized ziplock bags until Christmas afternoon. Luckily, dads have to pretend to be in love with whatever they get for Christmas. Look, Dad, I made it myself.

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