Monday, September 23, 2013

Maple Vanilla Popcorn with Pecans

Once a year, I prepare for pure, unadulterated gluttony. I'm talking butter sculptures, baked potatoes the size of your head, candy apples covered in chocolate (then covered in more candy), enormous cream puffs, the ubiquitous burger topped with bacon on a buttered Krispy Kream donut instead of a bun, maple cotton candy, and all manner of fried delicacies - oreos, vegetables, whoopie pies, snickers bars, BUTTER, you name it. Ok, maybe I don't eat those things. Not most of them, anyway. Definitely not the burger.

If you live in Connecticut, or Massachusetts, or maybe even Rhode Island, you know what I'm talking about. The Big E, the biggest fair in the northeast, and the 6th largest fair in the nation. I think every New Englander has to have been to the fair at least once.

One of the highlights of the fair is checking out all of the "statehouses," where you can find interesting food, products, and other goodies from each state. I made a beeline for the massive area in the Vermont statehouse devoted entirely to maple products, and promptly scooped up a bottle of organic maple syrup while I was there this past weekend. After staring at that gorgeous bottle of syrup for two days, it finally came to me: Maple Vanilla Popcorn.

No wait. Maple Vanilla Popcorn WITH PECANS.
The key players in this are just what you would expect, fresh popped popcorn, pecans, maple syrup, and a little twist on a familiar ingredient, vanilla bean powder. That is, whole vanilla bean pods dried and ground into a fine powder. It's not exactly a common ingredient, and probably won't be on the shelves of your garden variety supermarket, but it can be ordered online here, or if you have a good co-op or natural foods store near you, you should be able to find it there. I got mine from the bulk spice section of my local co-op, Fiddleheads, and was able to buy only as much as I needed. The flavor is stronger than vanilla extract, and it gives the popcorn all these gorgeous vanilla bean flecks.
You begin by popping your popcorn, then pouring it into a LARGE buttered bowl so that when you add the maple coating it doesn't stick. Then add in your pecans.
The maple coating is just a mixture of maple syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla bean powder, and baking soda, which helps to aerate it and give it a lighter texture, so you're not biting into hard 'candy' chunks.

Then you drizzle it over your popcorn, and stir make sure everything has some coating on it.
From there, lay your popcorn out on baking sheets and bake at a low temperature for an hour, giving it a stir every fifteen minutes or so (you could skip baking if you REALLY don't want to, your popcorn might not be a crispy though and possibly slightly sticky).

And then you have, decadent, delicious, Big E worthy, Maple Vanilla Popcorn. With Pecans.

MAPLE VANILLA POPCORN WITH PECANS

Adapted from The Homemade Pantry

1/2 cup plain popcorn kernels
1/4 cup neutral oil, such as canola
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean powder (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Butter a large bowl, and put aside. In a large stockpot, add the oil and corn kernels, and cook over medium-high heat with the lid on. Shake the pot over heat, and continue as the kernels pop, until popping slows and stops. Immediately remove from heat and dump your popcorn into the buttered bowl, then pour your chopped pecans over it.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, maple syrup, sugar, salt, and vanilla powder and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once it comes to a boil, let it continue cooking for five minutes, without stirring. Remove from heat and add the baking soda - it will foam up and may smoke.

Gently drizzle 1/2 of your syrup mixture over your popcorn - if you are not gentle your popcorn may deflate. Stir with a rubber spatula until it is all distributed evenly, then add the rest of the syrup mixture and stir again to distribute. If the popcorn is cool enough, you can use your hands to give it one last toss to make sure each piece has some coating on it, but be careful that you don't burn yourself on hot caramel.

Turn out and spread onto two parchment lined baking sheets, and bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes or so until the caramel is no longer sticky. Let the popcorn cool, then store in an airtight container. It will last for at least a week in an airtight container, but can also be frozen for up to six months.


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