Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Weird Recipe Wednesday: Cake Mix Caramel Corn {and another baking (mis)adventure}

Weird Recipe Wednesday: Because some recipes are so weird I just HAVE to try them.  My curiosity always gets the better of me.

I love popcorn, the possibilities are endless.  Sweet, savory, salty or a little of each (...cinnamon kettle corn with cayenne, so much better than it sounds).  When I came across a caramel corn recipe using cake mix I was too curious to pass it up.  I wondered how cake mix would hold up in the syrup.  Would it get grainy, would it actually taste like cake?  

Every Christmas my grandma would make the most amazing caramel corn.  To this day it is still the best caramel corn recipe I've come across.  We would stand over the stove for what seemed like forever waiting for that candy thermometer to get to just the right temperature, only to have my grandma declare her thermometer was off and then lift the wooden spoon and decide if the strings of caramel looked just right  When the sugar boils for nearly an hour it caramelizes into the best buttery toffee flavor, especially when it's made by your grandma.

Although I love her recipe, I've found that people (including myself) rarely take the time to do things the old-fashioned way.  We want fast and easy recipes that don't require candy thermometers or hours at the stove.  I've tried several caramel corn recipes that require no thermometer and come together quickly.  While the flavor isn't quite as rich due to the short boiling time, the results are still delicious.

This cake mix caramel corn is the quick and easy variety. Cake mix is added to the sugar syrup and boiled for 3-4 minutes.  This gooey mixture is then poured over the popcorn and finished off in the oven.  I was a little concerned with the original recipe which emphasized not boiling the syrup.  But I figured it had something to do with the cake mix and tried it exactly as written the first time.  Then I changed a few things and did it my own way, which worked just as well.  I almost made another batch to try out a few more methods and tweaks, but one can only have so much cake mix caramel corn before going into sugar overdose.

Sweet and sugary with a subtle cake flavor is the best way to describe how this popcorn tastes.  It doesn't have a rich caramel flavor, but it's a fun change of pace for a birthday.  I made this last week, but ironically it's my grandma's 79th birthday today.  Maybe I should make her some with the rest of that cake mix.  Oh wait, I already used the rest.  

This is where the "weird" comes into weird recipe Wednesday.  I was debating what to do with the rest of the cake mix and came up with way too many ideas.  You know how I tend to ramble on and jump from thought to thought?  It's even worse in my head when I'm deciding what to make, as you will see by this misadventure. If I could just make up my mind and stick to it instead of jumping from idea to idea....well, where would the fun be in that?

I started with the idea of cake mix cinnamon rolls.  I've been wanting to try them out for a long time, but the recipes I've seen call for an entire box of cake mix and 5 cups of flour.  That's a lot of cinnamon rolls.  Since I had part of a mix left I cut the recipe in half and went from there. Now, I'm not really sure how much cake mix I had at this point so I just added flour to the dough until it felt right.  

While the dough was rising my mind was thinking of too many options.  Hmmm, instead of filling the dough with cinnamon sugar let's put in peanut butter and jelly! (I'll spare you the details of how I got there.)  Warm, gooey, melted peanut butter and  homemade grape jelly our neighbors brought over quite a while ago.  But wait, that could get messy.  All the jelly will leak out the bottom and stick to the pan.  Hmmm, instead of individual rolls let's turn it into peanut butter and jelly swirl bread. You know, like the cinnamon swirl loaf with the spiral in the middle, but with peanut butter and jelly.  Then it won't leak out everywhere and it will look super cool when sliced.  Decision made (finally).  

I went to work on my plan and everything was going nicely.  I greased the loaf pan extra carefully in case of a sticky disaster.  Or so I thought.  When I went to take the loaf out of the oven it was perfectly golden brown.  I flipped it onto the cooling rack, but it was stuck in the pan.  After a little loosening and shaking I tried again only to have the top half of the loaf rip off and fall out.  I ended up with what looked like a disaster and never got to see that swirl.  But you chew it all up anyway, right?  It was still gone by the next day we just had to eat it by tearing off chunks instead of cutting it into slices.  One less utensil to wash, no more partial cake mix and no desire to snap a picture. 

Cake Mix Caramel Corn
adapted from Averie Cooks

10-12 cups popped popcorn
1/2 cup (one stick) butter or margarine
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup yellow cake mix
1/4 cup light corn syrup
pinch salt
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
birthday sprinkles, optional

* Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.
* Pour popcorn into a large heat proof bowl. Set aside.
* In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. 
* Add brown sugar, cake mix, corn syrup and salt.  Stir to combine.
* Bring mixture to a boil and continue boiling 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.  Mixture will be thick.
* Remove from heat and carefully stir in vanilla.
* Pour syrup over popcorn and  carefully stir until evenly coated.  Mixture will be very hot, use caution.
* Spread popcorn onto prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with sprinkles if desired. Bake 20-25 minutes, stirring once.halfway through.  Remove from oven when popcorn begins to crisp and is no longer sticky.  Let cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.  

Food for Thought: "Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere." - Albert Einstein  



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