Mama Frischkorn’s Caramel Corn
(Makes 2 1/2 QT) Pair with the Triple Crown, Late Harvest Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc
For many years, our culinary team would compete at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. One of our cooks, Eric Frischkorn, kept begging us to let him enter his mom’s caramel corn. We were skeptical. He’d be up against pastry chefs whose showy confections took days to prepare. But Eric insisted, and, to our surprise, on the big day, the judges blew right past all of the fancy cakes and pastries and gave Eric a double gold medal and best in show for desserts. From that day on, our team capped off food-and-wine pairing menus with Mama Frischkorn’s caramel corn paired with a late harvest white, and it became an instant signature. It turns out this wasn’t really Mrs. Frischkorn’s recipe after all. She got it from Eric’s babysitter! But wherever it came from now it’s yours to enjoy.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 qt freshly popped air-popped popcorn
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray, or line with a silicone baking mat.
To make the caramel: In a heavy 4-qt pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the corn syrup and brown sugar and stir gently just to combine. Simmer, without agitating the pan, for about 4 minutes, until large bubbles begin to form. Continue cooking on medium heat, stirring every 30 seconds, for 2 to 4 minutes, until the mixture has turned amber. To check the color of the caramel, carefully dip a piece of the popcorn into the pot. Turn off the heat and carefully whisk in 2 teaspoons of the salt, the vanilla, and the baking soda. Gently fold in the popcorn, being careful not to crush it, until evenly coated with the caramel.
To bake the caramel corn: Transfer the popcorn to the prepared sheet pan and bake, stirring gently every 5 minutes and making sure the popcorn is evenly coated with caramel, for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Meanwhile, lay a large sheet of waxed paper on a work surface. When the caramel corn is ready, spread it in an even layer on the waxed paper and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Once it is cool enough to handle but not completely cold, break apart the popcorn bunches. The caramel corn will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.
Note: Air-popped popcorn is preferred, but if you don’t have a hot-air popper, popcorn made on the stove top will also work.