Caramel Corn

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I’ve been experimenting quite a bit recently with caramel (not “carmel”, like Newfoundlanders and many Americans call it, that drives me bonkers) corn — something to which I am entirely addicted, but usually too lazy to make.  I think I’ve finally come up with a recipe I like, however, so now you can have it.  This version is plain jane, but feel free to jazz it up with chopped salted nuts for extra pizzazz.

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First, start with 10 cups popped popcorn.  This is generally about 1 cup of the unpopped stuff.  We don’t have an air popper here, and I’m afraid of the chemicals in microwave packets, so I’ll let you in on how I make my own popcorn (when I’m not doing it this way).  Take about 1/3 cup of popcorn and plop it in the bottom of a brown paper lunch bag.

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Fold the top edge down once and then again, over itself.

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Put that on its side in your microwave and cook away.  Every microwave is different when it comes to popcorn, but I’ve found that on mine, cooking it for 2 minutes and 35 seconds on power level 9 (out of 10) pops nearly every kernel, every time, without burning anything.  Make sure to save people’s teeth by sifting out all the unpopped kernels before you use this stuff.

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Now, preheat your oven to 250°F and spray a large roasting pan.  I used the one I save for turkey time.  You could also use a large metal bowl if that’s all you have. Plop your popcorn in the roasting pan for now.

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Scrounge around and find yourself a wooden spoon (always preferable to metal in candy making), a spatula, a whisk, and a candy thermometer.  Keep those all handy.

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Find a large pot, too, and plop in 1 cup butter, 2 cups brown sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup (any colour, doesn’t matter), and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

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On the side, have two small dishes ready with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

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Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, stirring often, and clip the candy thermometer to the side. The reason you use the wooden spoon here is because sugar crystallizes more quickly on metal than wood, and crystallization is not what you want at this particular juncture.

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Once the mixture starts boiling, stir it constantly for 1 minute.

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Then take the spoon out and let it boil on its own for 5 minutes.  It’s going to boil up pretty high, so make sure you use a large pot for this. At this point, your candy thermometer should be reading 250°F, which is the magic number for the hard ball stage — exactly what we want.

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Turn off the heat and stir your mixture for about a minute.  Then remove it entirely from the heat.

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Whisk in your vanilla and baking soda.  It will fizz up, so be careful.  See how the texture and colour has changed?  Well, you can’t in that photo because it’s a terrible photo, but it will become smooth and a light opaque brown almost immediately. Keep whisking until it more or less stops fizzing.

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Slowly and in a controlled stream, pour your caramel over your waiting popcorn, mixing with a spatula.  Don’t worry if you don’t get it entirely incorporated.

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I suggest leaving all your caramel tools soaking in hot water for a few minutes.  It makes cleanup so much easier.

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Pop the roasting pan filled with popcorn in the oven and bake it for an hour, stirring it all over every 15 minutes.  While the caramel had started to harden on you before you stuck it in there, baking it at this low heat enables it to ooze all over the place and cover everything evenly.

So when you’re stirring, make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, because you will always find a nice puddle of caramel down there.

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Spread a counter with waxed paper and spray it, too.  Once the hour is up, take the pan from the oven and spread the popcorn in a thin layer on the waxed paper to cool. Squish it down with your spatula to spread it out. Doing that now will make it both cool faster and be easier to separate after it’s cooled.

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Once it has fully cooled, break it up into pieces and store it in a sealed container for up to a few days.

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Or package it in wee bags for a bake sale, which is what I did.

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I found the “Hello” stickers lying around in my office supply cupboard.  I figured what the heck, eh?

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MUGS Bake Sale 1

Strawberry-Glazed Angel Food Cake

Angel food is one of my favourite cakes, always has been, even since I was a child.  My mother would rarely make it because without a stand mixer it’s kind of a pain in the ass.  With my lovely Kitchenaid this whole shebang is a breeze.

This is one recipe where I follow the rules to the letter.  You really can’t mess with the science of this cake. Angel food is basically an enormous meringue with flour and sugar suspended in it, so you have to be pretty rigid with how you make it.  You also absolutely NEED a tube pan or bundt pan to make angel food cake.  The batter won’t cook evenly without that empty space in the middle.  Trust me, I’ve tried it.  Bad things happen.  Tube pans are generally better to use than bundt pans simply because the tube on the pan is generally taller than the rest of the pan to allow you to invert it, or the pan comes with legs on the top that let you do the same thing.

I got this recipe a few years ago from Cooking for Engineers, and I think it’s fantastic.  It’s a good way to fancy up an easy cake.  The only change I made to this recipe was to double the amount of stewed strawberries, as the last time I made it I didn’t feel like I had enough.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups cake flour or all purpose flour and 1/3 cup granulated sugar.  Then sift that stuff together with a sifter.  I like the handheld squeezy sifters because they make my life easier and they’re fun.  You want to sift your solids a couple times to make sure the sugar and flour are fully incorporated.

Now you need the whites of 12 eggs (about 1 1/2 cups).  You can either separate them yourself or buy them in a carton – the choice is yours.  Just make sure that if you separate them yourself you don’t get any yolks mixed in with the whites – whites don’t get all that fluffy when there is fat mixed in.  We’ll figure out something to do with the yolks another time, but until then you can wrap them tightly and put them in the freezer.  Bring the whites to room temperature.  You can do this quickly by putting the bowl of whites inside another bowl of warm water. Room temperature whites will make a bigger foam than cold whites.  FACT.

Put your whites in your mixer and let ‘er rip.  When the whites begin to look frothy, add in 1/4 tsp salt and 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.

When the whites have formed soft peaks, whisk in 1 1/2 tsp vanilla and then whisk in 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, a little bit at a time.

Soft peaked meringue

When the whites have formed stiff peaks (ones that don’t droop), stop yer mixin’ and take the bowl out the mixer.

Stiff peaked meringue

Sift the flour mixture onto a thin layer on top of the whites, a bit at a time, and fold in gently with a wide spatula.  Be very gentle so you don’t disturb the millions of little bubbles.  Keep adding layers of flour until you’re out of stuff to sift, and keep folding until it’s all in there.

Fold gently - don't disturb the foam!

Gently scoop the mixture into a spotlessly clean and un-greased tube pan (grease + meringues = not so good).  Level the top with a spatula and ease it into the oven for 35 minutes, until the top is a lovely golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and immediately invert the pan.  I like the old wine bottle trick, where you invert the pan and stand it on the neck of a full bottle of wine.  Inverting the pan prevents the very fragile cake from collapsing on itself as it cools, and putting it on a wine bottle allows for sufficient air flow underneath to speed the cooling process.  Don’t touch the cake for a couple of hours until it is completely cool.  Not to fret – the cake will not fall out on its own – you didn’t grease the pan, remember?

The old wine bottle trick

While the cake is baking/cooling, you can make your strawberry goo.  You can also do this the day before, which is handy if you’re having a dinner party.

In a pot, combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 8 oz frozen strawberries.  Now, the last time I made this recipe I didn’t have enough strawberries, so I decided to up the amount.  Therefore, I dumped in an entire package of frozen strawberries, which was 600g, or about 21 oz.  This was a goodly amount for my purposes, but it does end up leaving you with a lot of extra glaze.  I froze my extra glaze for some invention at a later date.

Anyway, stir your pot mixture to dissolve the sugar while you bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes.  I don’t recommend covering the pot and walking away.  Bad things happen.  My house still smells like burnt sugar.  Keep an eye on that sucker.

The strawberries should be super gooshy at this point.  Remove the pot from the heat and strain your solids from your liquids by pouring the mixture through a sieve into a measuring cup.  Make sure to get as much liquid as possible from your solids and set them aside.

Mmmmetric . . .

Return the liquid to the pot and bring it to a simmer again.  Whisk 1 tbsp corn starch into 3 tbsp water and pour the suspension into the syrup.  Bring the syrup to a boil again, stirring often.  This will activate the starch and cause the syrup to thicken.  When it does, remove it from the heat.   Set the syrup aside to cool, then refrigerate for a while until cold.

Cooling the goo.

Now back to the cake.  Once it is completely cool you can set it upright again.  Run a thin knife between the cake and the pan to loosen it.  Make sure to run the knife around the tube as well.  If your tube pan has a separating bottom, you can now just lift out the bottom panel and run your knife around that to free the cake.  If not, jimmying the knife around and jiggling the cake itself generally helps to get it out of the pan.

Knife that sucker.

Put the cake on a clean surface, and using a long serrated knife, cut the cake equally in half horizontally.  Try to keep your lines straight.

Cut it in half horizontally.

Remove the top half of the cake and set it aside.  In the bottom half, use a spoon or your fingers to scoop a shallow trough in the cake all the way around, like a wee moat.  You can eat the bits that you scoop out, mmmm.  Fill the moat with your strawberry solids, all the way around.

Fill the trough with solid goo. I mean strawberries.

Put the top half of the cake back on and pretend that you never cut it at all.

Take your chilled glaze and, using a spatula, silicone brush, spoon, or whatever is easiest, coat the entire cake, even in the little hole, with the glaze.

Blazing Glaze!

Put the glazed cake aside until you are ready to serve it.  A little bit of time also allows the glaze to set a bit.  Right before serving, whip yourself up some cream, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups whipping cream, with 1 tbsp granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.  Over-whip the cream a bit so it’s stiffer and maintains its shape.

Slather the whipped cream all over the cake, even in the hole in the middle, until it’s evenly covered.  You can go for the smooth-looking approach by using a long knife, or you can go crazy with whorls and cowlicks and whatever.  I like to dump about 2-3 cups of fresh sliced strawberries all over the top and into the hole before serving. Oh man, oh man . . .

Slather with whipped cream and strawberries right before serving.

Cover left-over cake (hah, as if that’s even possible) with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a week, if it lasts that long.

Wrap the cake with plastic wrap and it will keep for a few days, though it will sag a bit.