Homemade Cracker Jack

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I feel like I need to start this post with a warning and a disclaimer because this stuff is dangerous. According to Wikipedia, the original Cracker Jack slogan (coined in 1896) was “The More You Eat The More You Want” and this could not be more true! The stuff is literally “Crack”er Jack. However, the crunchy treat didn’t get it’s name because it’s ridiculously addictive…it was actually named by an enthusiastic sampler who remarked: “That’s a crackerjack!” (a phrase from a bygone era meaning “of excellent quality”.)* Since it’s inception in Chicago over 100 years ago, it has become synonymous with summer, baseball, fairs, carnivals, and vacation.

Cracker Jack isn’t just caramel popcorn…the addition of molasses and peanuts add to the depth and variety of flavor and the low and slow baking time make this a light and crispy candy-like treat. Our homemade version is exceptionally close to the real thing…except that we’re biased and think it’s actually better. It’s also surprisingly easy…once you’ve popped your corn the prep time is about 10 minutes. Make the most of these waning days of summer by making some Cracker Jack! Just be sure not to eat it all in one sitting…

Cracker Jacks-035 Katryn’s Wine Pairing: Bodini Malbec, 2013
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0

Nathan’s perfect beer pairing beat my wine pairing but this was still an awesome combo! This Malbec has notes of cherry and caramel (and a faint nuttiness!) and is an extremely straight forward and drinkable wine. It’s faintly sweet, a little spicy, and surprisingly complimentary with our Cracker Jack. You’ve probably never thought of pairing Cracker Jack with wine but trust me and give it a try!

Cracker Jacks-033 Nathan’s Beer Pairing: Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, Founders Brewing Company
Rating: 8.75 out of 10.0

This Scotch Ale is fantastic and the perfect beer to pair with our homemade cracker jacks! Dark brown and red in color with aromas of caramel, toffee, and roasted malts and flavors of rich malt, brown sugar, and chocolate but only medium bodied and well carbonated to provide a smooth finish. This ale is also a respectable 8.5% ABV which provides a warming feeling as it glides down your throat. The flavors of the beer and cracker jacks complimented each other so well that taking a drink of Dirty Bastard after having some cracker jacks just continued that party in your mouth but this time with carbonation to wash the whole thing down.

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Homemade Cracker Jack

Adapted from this recipe

16 cups freshly-popped popcorn*
2 cups roasted, lightly salted peanuts (Spanish or regular)
¾ cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
Sea salt, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 250°. Transfer the popped corn to a large large stock pot (we used our wok!), discarding any un-popped kernels as you go. Add the peanuts and toss to combine.
2. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda.
3. Working quickly, pour the hot caramel into the pot and gently toss until the popped corn and nuts are evenly coated. (I used two spoons and then my hands once the mixture was cool enough.)
4. Divide the popcorn mixture in half between 2 greased baking sheets, spreading into a thin, even layer. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 45 minutes. Allow to cool in pans for 20 minutes. Separate the popcorn into individual pieces with your hands before serving. This is best eaten the day it’s made but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

*We used this recipe to pop our popcorn and it came out perfectly!

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