I thought I’d do something for bake sale week that goes a little beyond the ordinary. Most of the time, we’re thinking brownies and cupcakes, but I remember one time, on an episode of The Barefoot Contessa, when Ina was asked to donate something to a local bake sale. She ended up making little cellophane bags filled homemade marshmallows with toasted coconut. And I’m sure they were sold out in about 14 seconds.
Today, I wanted to do something along the same lines. First I thought of making caramel popcorn drizzled with melted chocolate, which is always a good idea. But then, as the popcorn was in the oven, I spied my jar of peanuts on the shelf, and I fancied making homemade cracker jack instead. The peanuts were almost gone, and I almost dropped the idea, but then reasoned that peanuts are probably the main reason bake sales are hardly ever done anymore in this country.
All that said, this cracker jack is basically only caramel popcorn. But once you put it in cute bags with labels (you can download my PDF labels here), and throw in a cheap dime store toy, you’ll be the hit of the bake sale.
homemade cracker jack
Just a word of warning. Some people may just have a talent for caramel popcorn, some people don’t. I’m one of those people, and for me it’s a bit hit and miss. It takes some practice to really hit the texture just right. But it will almost always taste good, so I’m sure you’ll be happy, whichever kind of person you are.
16 cups air popped popcorn (1 cup un-popped)
1/2 cup raw peanuts, shelled
2 sticks butter
2 cups light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon very good vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 200 (or 220 high altitude). Place popcorn and peanuts (if using) in a very large bowl.
2. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in sugar, salt, and corn syrup. Stir occasionally until it comes to a nice easy boil. Once it is boiling low and steady, stir constantly for 5 minutes. If the boil becomes too rapid, lower the heat. After five minutes, remove from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda until mixed.
3. Pour over popcorn, and, working quickly, stir well to get all the popcorn coated as well as possible. Pour onto a very large baking sheet, or two regular baking sheets, and bake for 35-45 minutes, flipping the popcorn over every 10 minutes or so to ensure even baking/drying.
4. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Place a small toy wrapped in a small ziploc bag (to ensure safety). Divide popcorn among the bags and place a label on each bag.