When I was a little kid, my dad would bring home all kinds of corporate gifts from his office around the holidays. Tons of chocolate and candy, and of course… the iconic popcorn tin filled with three different varieties of popcorn. If memory serves, they had buttered popcorn, cheesy popcorn and caramel corn. I actually have a very vivid memory of one year, days after Christmas, my sister and I in the living room watching The New Kids on the Block Hangin’ Tough VHS tape (seriously), singing into a toy stand microphone with flashing lights on the bottom, and eating popcorn from one of those big tins. This moment might actually be captured on a home video somewhere, which is just downright mortifying.
Anyway, back to the popcorn… It was no contest in our house – the caramel corn section was always the first to go in the tin, no questions asked. Being a huge peanut butter person means that I was also totally enamored with Cracker Jack growing up. Imagine how ecstatic I was to find out that a homemade version was totally doable. It’s also hopelessly addicting, but that’s neither here nor there :)
It’s been awhile since I made a batch of caramel corn and I wanted to jazz things up a bit. I started with bacon, because, well, bacon significantly improves just about everything, doesn’t it? I also switched up the nuts, opting for cashews instead of the traditional peanuts. Lastly, I added bourbon to the caramel mixture.
Bourbon and caramel? Good.
Bourbon and bacon? Good.
Bourbon and cashews? Good.
I feel like Joey from Friends rattling off that list. Basically, bourbon seemed like a good partner for everything else going into the popcorn. Plus, the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, so I busted out the Jim Beam bourbon.
Whether you want to reminisce about the popcorn tins of the old days (are those still a thing? I haven’t seen one in at least a decade!) or need a snack to munch on while watching the Kentucky Derby, this is a killer recipe. It also makes a ton, so you’ll be a hero if you decide to bring it to a party.
Make the Popcorn: Pour 3 tablespoons of the bacon drippings a large pot and drop four kernels of corn into the pan. Cover and set over high heat. After all of the kernels pop, turn off the heat. Pour in all of the kernels, cover, and wait 30 seconds. Turn the heat back on to high and pop until the kernels are no longer popping. Empty the popcorn into a large, 6-quart bowl and discard any kernels that haven't popped. Stir the bacon and cashews into the popcorn.
Make the Caramel: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Place the sugar, butter, bourbon and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar melts, and then stir occasionally once the caramel begins to simmer until it reaches a golden caramel color. Remove the saucepan from the heat and quickly stir in the vanilla extract and baking soda (it will bubble up, just keep stirring until it calms down).
Finish the Caramel Corn: Immediately pour the caramel over the popcorn. Working quickly, use a silicone spatula (or a rubber spatula coated with non-stick cooking spray) to mix it all together, ensuring that the caramel evenly coats all of the popcorn. Turn the popcorn out onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Allow to cool completely (it takes 30 minutes to 1 hour), then break up into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Note: The bourbon is boiled in the caramel mixture, so the alcohol burns off, leaving just the flavor, thus this popcorn is safe to serve to kids if you so choose.Nutritional values are based on one cup