Saturday, January 5, 2013

Old Fashioned Caramel Corn...Corn syrup free

I did it.  After much sadness at the thought that I would never be able to eat caramel or caramel corn again because of my absolute rejection of corn syrup...I finally decided to try making caramel with alternative ingredients. Lately I've found that "healthIER" renditions of old favorites just don't cut it.

Scones are heavy with sprouted wheat flour, not the light, fluffy, creamy clouds they used to be with regular all-purpose flour...
Cakes are flat, and grainy when made with almond and coconut flours...not like the flour and vegetable oil laden wedding cakes I used to enjoy in the past...
Cookies just aren't the same...while I find it's easier to make an enjoyable cookie out of odd flours and coconut oil, it still isn't the same...

The fact is, for those of us who have abandoned wheat, things will never be the same.  And that's OK.  Enough research shows that wheat is a major danger to everyone's health, not just people with celiac.   It causes a myriad of health problems, obesity to name one...which totes along many other health problems with it such as infertility, type II diabetes...depression.  It doesn't take advanced medical science to make connections between eating something...and having an unpleasant reaction like acid reflux, nausea, or dare I say...gas.  That last symptom was on another list in my family called "entertainment" and was never considered a problem!  Har har....But that's what bread does to this family, and that stinks....literally!

This innocent post about caramel corn turned into an anti-wheat back to the point.  While I've had so-so successes with alternative flours, I've just made the sky a little bluer by figuring out how to make caramel corn without corn syrup.  This is an old family recipe handed down from a fabulous cook who I believed was my aunt.  We always called her "Aunt Dorothy" but I didn't grasp geneology well enough to understand that she was "just a friend" until after she had passed on. I've used this recipe for years without fail, for holidays, bake sales...and just for fun.  With the alternate ingredients, it cooks about the same, it tastes BETTER.  And the best part is, I'll allow my kiddos to have it when I make it...because even though it's basically a sugar and a grain, it's a once a year treat that I hope will "set the bar" for how they think caramel corn SHOULD taste.

The first time my mom made this was New Years Eve when I was in high school.  She didn't tell me she was making it, it just appeared.  I was in shock because I didn't know you could "make it"...I thought it always just came from Topsy's!  ;)


Old Fashioned Caramel Corn

2 Cups Jaggery (Indian Brown Sugar)
2 Sticks of butter
1/2 Cup Brown Rice Syrup
Pinch of celtic sea salt
2 'batches' of air-popped popcorn (I have no measurement, I just use the measuring cup on top of the machine and make 2 batches.  

1 tsp Baking Soda

Preheat the oven to 200 F. Pop your corn and set it aside in a deep roasting pan that's twice as high as your popcorn.  Measure out your baking soda and set it by the stove along with a whisk.
Melt jaggery, butter, brown rice syrup and celtic sea salt in a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan over medium heat, gas mark 2ish, stirring until it's melted and combined.  Use a pan that leaves room for boiling and expansion of the caramel.  When the mixture comes to a rolling boil, set the timer for 5 minutes and then leave it alone and don't stir. If the caramel starts to get too dark or smokes, remove from heat and quickly whisk in the baking soda.  Otherwise, you'll see the caramel slowly turn dirty copper brown, especially around the edges.  Whisk in the baking soda. The mixture might foam up, so be cautious.
As soon as it's completely mixed, pour it over the popcorn and immediately start stirring until the popcorn is coated with the caramel.  There will be clumps, and likewise un-coated pieces, but that's ok!  Place caramel corn in a 200 degree oven, stirring every 15 minutes for a total of 4 times, or one hour.

That's it!  Remove it from the oven and stir it one last time to break it into individual pieces...and then try not to eat it all.  That's the most difficult part!

*Jaggery is Indian brown sugar found at Indian grocery stores.  It's in a cone shape that you shave with a knife. I tried using a microplane on it and it was painfully slow.  You're going to melt it in hot butter with this recipe, so there's no need for it to look like modern brown sugar when you start.

*Popcorn, I always use organic to avoid GMO's and you can use 1.5 batches, or 2 like I do, or even 3 batches.  It all depends on how much caramel coating you want.  You can use less corn and make seriously candied corn, or a lot more corn for a "kettle corn" style...or in-between like I do for a moderate amount of candy.

*Brown Rice Syrup, while recent news reports have demonized brown rice for it's arsenic content...I believe that you can ingest more toxins just breathing the air outside.  For a once a year caramel corn fix, you're not going to keel over from arsenic poisoning.  Plus, it's in the earth, God put it there...not for us to eat, but alas, we get it in our bodies like radon, and mercury, and so on.  Buy a reliable brand like Lundberg's, make sure it's organic, and moderate away! I'll take my chances with a trace of arsenic over a 1/2 cup of corn syrup any day.  

*Lastly, I would recommend using over-sized equipment to make this.  A bigger pot than you think you need to allow for caramel bubbling up, a bigger roasting pan to mix the popcorn in to make sure it doesn't all plop over the edge and onto the floor...when you're just mixing the molten caramel into the popcorn, it will clump together and sorta "bully" the uncoated popcorn out of the bowl.  Until they all get a little sugar on their surface, they will not behave!


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