Tequila-Spiked Caramel Corn

No matter what I eat for breakfast or lunch, I always find myself craving a little something to snack on mid-afternoon. I start thinking about lunch pretty early, and we eat dinner fairly late most nights, so I need something in the middle there to bridge the gap! I make a conscious effort to keep healthy snack choices on hand, but sometimes the bag of potato chips we hide way up on top of the cabinet will catch my eye and I sneak a few. Lately I’ve started keeping popcorn kernels in the pantry as an alternative. I make my popcorn on the stovetop and add just a little salt so it satisfies the same cravings as the chips (crunchy and salty). It’s definitely a healthier choice and I never feel like I’m missing anything picking it over the potato chips.

Tequila-Spiked Caramel Corn

As much as I enjoy plain popcorn, sometimes it’s fun to make it a bit more naughty :) Here it’s coated in a thick caramel sauce, making it the perfect treat when you’re craving that salty-sweet combo. Oh, and did I mention it’s spiked with tequila? Just in time for Cinco de Mayo too! In the end, I didn’t actually find the tequila all that noticeable – it just gives the popcorn that certain something that makes you wonder what else was included in the caramel sauce. This stuff is completely addictive – the recipe makes a huge batch of popcorn, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you can make your way through it if you’re not careful! I halved the recipe below to keep the yield more manageable so that’s definitely an option. If you want to make it all, the popcorn is great for parties or even for packaging up and gifting to friends or family.

PS – if you’d rather skip the tequila, I made a plain version here and a peanut butter version too!

Tequila-Spiked Caramel Corn
adapted from Food and Wine

1 cup popcorn kernels, unpopped
canola oil (for popping)
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons honey (or agave nectar)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons tequila

Pop popcorn using your preferred method. I made mine on the stove top, and for this much popcorn you’ll want a big pan – a large Dutch oven works well. Place a few tablespoons of canola oil in the pot along with 3 kernels of popcorn then cover the pot and set it over medium to medium-high heat. When those first 3 kernels pop, add the remaining kernels and pop them, shaking the pot occasionally to prevent burning. When the noise of the kernels popping is nearly stopped, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for a minute.

Transfer the popcorn to two large heatproof bowls (try not to add any unpopped kernels, if some remain in the bottom of the pot). You want to leave yourself plenty of room to toss the popcorn with the caramel, so don’t fill the bowls to the top. Add the peanuts to the popcorn and toss to combine.

Preheat oven to 250 F with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

To make the caramel: combine the brown sugar, butter, honey, corn syrup and salt in a large saucepan. Set over medium heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil. When it reaches a boil, stop stirring and leave it alone to boil for 4 minutes. It will bubble up and become foamy but won’t overflow. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the baking soda and tequila – be careful, it will bubble up a bit when you add them. Immediately pour the hot caramel over the popcorn (dividing it evenly between the two bowls) and use rubber spatulas to gently toss to coat the popcorn.

Divide the popcorn among the two prepared baking sheets and spread in an even layer. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring the popcorn every 15 minutes, and rotating the baking sheets halfway through. You’ll know the popcorn is done when it’s nearly dry and crisp. Taste a piece – if it’s still a little soft, keep baking. Turn off the oven, open the door, and allow the popcorn to cool completely. You’ll need to break it apart before serving.

Store the popcorn in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes about 16 cups of popcorn (the recipe halves well if you want a smaller batch)