I made this homemade Cracker Jack for my son, J.B. on the occasion of his first sleepover. He and a friend each had their own box, which they ate while watching “RoboCop 2014” on Netflix and sorting through a big box of Pokemon cards my husband scored for them from a coworker. The movie was everything two 10-year-old boys could ask for — part-man, part-robot takes on an army of drones — and the cards were also a big hit because they contained a bunch of first editions and a card called Mewto (?????).
When we were planning the sleepover, I had originally envisioned providing the boys with fruit and veggies, maybe cut into cool shapes, but J.B. might have thought this was babyish, and I sensed that my husband was about to put his foot down and hand the boys a box of Little Debbies and a bag of Cheetos if I didn’t come up with something more fun.
Since some food historians consider Cracker Jack the first junk food. It’s been around since 1896 and is so much a part of baseball history that its 100th anniversary was celebrated at a Cubs-Marlins game at Wrigley Field. I’d like to tinker with the recipe to try to eliminate the corn syrup, but at least this once, I wanted to go with the real thing.
Good thing I did. All 16 cups of this disappeared in a 12-hour-period. I looked the other way Saturday morning when I glanced up from working on our weekly meal plan at the computer to see J.B. take the rest of the Cracker Jack downstairs. Sometimes I need reminding that the 80-percent healthy-20-percent splurge rule concept is enough.
- 16 cups freshly-popped popcorn
- 2 cups roasted, lightly salted peanuts
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- ¾ cup packed brown sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Sea salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 250°. Transfer the popped corn to a large large stock pot (or divide between 2 large mixing bowls), discarding any un-popped kernels as you go. Add the peanuts and toss to combine.
- Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda. Working quickly, pour the hot caramel into the pot and gently toss until the popped corn and nuts are evenly coated. (I prefer to use my hands to gently combine the mixture, once the caramel has cooled just a bit. You can where gloves if you'd like.)
- Divide the popcorn mixture in half between 2 greased baking sheets, spreading into a thin, even layer. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 50 minutes. Sprinkle Cracker Jack with a little sea salt and allow to cool in pans for 20 minutes. Separate the popcorn into individual pieces with your hands before serving. This is best eaten the day it's made but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.