Several years ago, before I got into making ice cream every couple of weeks, I used to make a lot of caramel corn. I'm talking about the good stuff that they sell for five bucks a handful in tourist traps, except better because I made it with plenty of real butter and without ridiculous novelty flavors for the rubes. It was praised by the editors of Food and Wine magazine. OK, one ex-editor, but still, he knew what he was talking about. It's also kind of a pain in the butt so I made this recipe instead.
Still, I've got a bit of expertise to bring to bear so I think my few tweaks managed to improve it.
enough popcorn kernels to make six to seven cups of popped popcorn. That's 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on the variety and how fresh they are
1 cup roasted peanuts
2 large pinches salt
1/2 cup strongly flavored dark honey, like, say, avocado honey
1/3 cup not-quite-white sugar, demerara or the like
1/2 cup natural unsweetened peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 or 5 shots of vinegar-based but fruity hot sauce, Tabasco's not really the best choice, but it'll do.
Prepare your largest mixing bowl. Heat a large heavy pan over medium heat and film the bottom with vegetable oil. Add a few kernels of the popcorn, then put a lid on the pan. Leave a small crack for steam to escape. When the popcorn starts popping, add the rest and shake vigorously to make sure the kernels pop evenly. When the popping slows, take the pan off the heat.
Pour the popcorn into the bowl to cool, being careful to leave any unpopped kernels in the pan. Coated with peanut butter caramel, the unpopped kernels are a serious tooth hazard.
Mix the honey, a pinch of salt and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and let simmer for three minutes, then remove from the heat and add the peanut butter. Stir vigorously until all the peanut butter is melted, then mix in the vanilla and hot sauce.
Immediately pour the peanut butter caramel over the popcorn and stir with a long-handled wooden spoon until it's all coated. Once it's mixed, check for seasoning. Let cool a few minutes before moving it to a serving bowl. Let cool a bit longer before actually serving as it's better when it's congealed a little. The texture is better refrigerator, but the flavor is better at room temperature. You'll have to judge the best balance yourself.
My popcorn popped up rather less voluminously than I wanted so I ended up with a rather thick coat of goop around the kernels. That's a bit of a novelty for me as I'm using to thin coats of caramel that I can bake into crispness. That's not really an option with a peanut butter based sauce. This is more in the soft chewy rice crispy treat neighborhood. Not a bad thing if that's what you're aiming at.
The dark honey and hot sauce give a couple dimensions of full flavor missing from the original recipe which is not necessarily a good thing if you're just looking for simple honey peanut butter which I admit can be quite nice. Here the light peanut butter flavor fades into a rich honey with a few bitter notes rounding it out and leaves a lingering burn. Well, I like it.
I'll have to make my proper caramel corn recipe some time and post it up. Maybe I'll try a new variation with the bottle of agave nectar I bought. It's got to be useful for something.