Homemade Cracker Jack

October  5, 2015
Photo by Teresa Floyd
Author Notes

Whether or not you are a fan of the original Cracker Jack, you’ll love this updated version: Airy fresh popcorn, crisp buttery caramel, and crunchy salty peanuts make this caramel corn hard to stop eating. It's seriously good.

A couple of helpful tips: First, be sure to have all the ingredients measured out and all of the kitchen tools nearby before you get started. It’s a simple recipe, but once the caramel is ready, the process will need to move quickly before the mixture begins to firm up. Second, a candy thermometer is essential for cooking the caramel to the required temperature. In regards to the ingredients, it’s okay to use unflavored microwave popcorn if you don’t have any popping kernels available. If you prefer a light molasses flavor, feel free to only use one teaspoon of molasses or omit it all together. It’ll be delicious with any of these options. —Teresa Floyd

  • Makes 8 to 9 ounces (about 5 cups)
  • 1 3/4 ounces (about 5 cups) freshly popped popcorn, lightly salted
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 ounces salted Spanish peanuts
  • 3 ounces brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 ounces light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons molasses
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat oven to 250° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.
  2. In a large bowl, place the freshly popped popcorn. Set aside until ready to use.
  3. Measure out the baking soda, vanilla extract, and Spanish peanuts separately and set each aside until ready to use.
  4. In a small pot, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, molasses, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, over medium-high heat, and cook to 250° F (around 1 to 2 minutes after it begins to boil).
  5. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the baking soda and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Pour over the popcorn and gently but quickly stir the mixture to evenly coat all the popcorn kernels. Add in the peanuts and gently stir to distribute evenly.
  6. Pour the mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet. With the back of a spatula, quickly spread it out into a single layer. Bake for 1 hour, stirring mixture halfway through.
  7. When done, remove from oven and stir the caramel corn once more. If using, sprinkle with the fine sea salt. Set on a cooling rack and allow it to cool. Once cool, enjoy right away or store in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days.

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Teresa Floyd is a freelance photographer, food writer, and pastry chef living in Kansas City, MO. She is the creator of Now, Forager, a pastry blog focused on seasonal pastries and desserts.