Cayenne Caramel Corn

Over the last week I've been anticipating fall in a big way. I've been drinking pumpkin-spice lattes, listening to Sarah McLachan's Christmas album, and counting down the days until fall starts. It's been rainy and I can pretend like the weather is cold(er). I LOVE fall cooking. The flavors and spices are unique, comforting, and make me so happy!

Last weekend Sarah and I whipped up a batch of honey-butter popcorn after a long, rainy day at the Dallas Zoo. This started me on a week-long popcorn binge. Caramel popcorn ensued at 6:00 Tuesday morning to take to bible study after work. Then I had some people over for an impromptu viewing of the premiere of The Office and realized 10 minutes before they showed up that I should probably provide a snack. So I whipped up some more caramel corn. This time I had a moment of pure inspiration. I promise, it was like my hand just reached into the cabinet, and when it came out it was holding-

Cayenne pepper.

The result of this recipe was a sweet, slightly spicy, fallish delight, thanks to the cayenne and a host of other fall spices. If you think making caramel popcorn is very very difficult or are incredibly impressed by homemade caramel corn, be prepared to add it to your list of foods to try. I promise you, it's really simple.

For the popcorn:
1/2 c unpopped popcorn kernels
2-3 T vegetable oil

For the caramel:
1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1 c brown sugar
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt

Begin by heating the oil in a large pot. Add 1 kernel of popcorn and when it pops, add all of the kernels. Put the lid on and shake the pot vigorously until all of the popcorn is popped. Remove the popcorn immediately into a 13x9 cake pan, or a cookie sheet with a big lip on it.

The caramel is really easy. Melt the butter in a small pot and add the brown sugar over medium/low heat. Whisk them together until they are well mixed and then allow it to heat for about 5 minutes without stirring. It will get puffy and bubbly. After it gets nice and puffy, give it a stir and add in the cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. (The baking soda is what gives it that creamy-ness.) Mix it all together well and pull it from the heat.

Drizzle the caramel over the popcorn and stir it all up so that all of the kernels of popcorn are well coated. Put it into a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes. This allows it to get crispy on the outside, rather than just be a soft coating. Take it out after about ten minutes and spread it out into one layer on a counter on some wax or parchment paper. Let it cool and harden the rest of the way.

The balance of sweet caramel and cayenne is just enough to be sweet at first and the hit you with that slight tingle of cayenne at the end. Fall officially starts on Tuesday, so start looking for many more fall recipes!

Sink or swim? Swim, but with room for improvement as I perfect this recipe.

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