While Cracker Jacks are available in every supermarket in America, it only takes a little effort to make homemade. Of course, fresh cooked popcorn taste so much better than popcorn that was popped in a factory 6 months prior. The freshness will become immediately apparent with your first bite. Each box of Cracker Jacks is only 1-ounce, and provides as natural stopping point. The biggest problem is that you will have a hard-time stopping. This recipe yields the equivalent of 28-boxes, so I have learned to break it down into 6 or 7 zip-lock bags. It’s absolutely delicious. 5-stars.
Chris Kimball does have a similar recipe for Butter Toffee Popcorn, but my goal with this recipe was to make something special for my kids (for kids Cracker Jack’s are better than Butter Toffee Popcorn). The main differences are that Chris Kimball calls for 1/2-stick more butter and 1/4-cup less corn syrup. Plus Cracker Jacks include molasses.
- You can pop your popcorn in any way you want. I prefer to use a hot air popper, since it doesn’t add any oil.
- I found it very easy to coat/bake the popped popcorn in a large roasting pan. But you could use anything: a disposable aluminum pan, a large metal bowl, or two cookie sheets.
- While I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts, the most Cracker Jack-like peanut is to use Spanish Peanuts (with red skin still intact). I have even used dry-roasted peanuts; but I recommend using lightly salted nuts. Full-salt Planters will taste much saltier than Cracker Jacks; but perhaps a more gourmet balance of sweet to salty.
- Cleaning up after making caramel doesn’t have to be difficult. I boil water in the pots and the caramel stuck to the bottom of the pan will eventually dissolve. To clean my roasting pan I set over two burners to boil the water.
Cost: $3.75 for 1-3/4 lbs (4-quarts).
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Ready at 5:15 PM.
Chris Kimball’s original recipe for is here. My descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:
4 quarts popped popcorn (made from 2/3 cup kernels)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1-1/2 cups brown sugar (7-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups Spanish peanuts (7-1/2 ounces); I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts
- Adjust a rack to the middle of your oven, and preheat to 250-degrees.
- Pop the popcorn (my preferred method is with a hot air popper). Grease large roasting pan, and use your hands to evenly spread the popped popcorn in a large roasting pan; leaving behind and discarding any “old maids” (un-and-under-popped kernels). Place in oven until ready to coat in Step 4.
- In a 2-quart saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses and salt. Set over medium burner, bring the mixture to a boil; stirring frequently. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes until the mixture reaches 255-260 degrees; using a cooking thermometer to take the temperature.
- Remove the popcorn from the oven. Working quickly, remove from heat and add vanilla extract and baking soda. Mix together and you will see the color change as the baking soda incorporates air into the mixture. As evenly as possible, pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and toss well to evenly coat all the popcorn (use two heatproof spatulas or wooden spoons; lightly buttered or sprayed with a non stick spray).
- Sprinkle with 1-1/2 cups of peanuts; continue to toss until become distributed.
- Return roasting pan to 250-degree oven and bake for 45 minutes, stirring well every 15 minutes. Try to evenly coat popcorn and gently break up slightly into smaller pieces.
- Allow to cool, and then break into smaller pieces.
- Evenly distribute between 6 or 7 zip-lock bags with as much air removed as possible. Chris Kimball says that it can be stored in an airtight container for 5 days; but it will never last that long.