Simple gifts: Caramel corn need not be disgusting
People give it as gifts because it's quick and convenient - try turning an aisle in any store without bumping into a mountain of tins - and gift recipients eat it because it's there. All of which leaves folks with the impression that bland and stale simply is the way caramel corn tastes.
Not so! Here's an easy recipe my family has used for decades:
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbl corn syrup
- 1 stick of butter
- Pinch of baking soda
- 4 cups popcorn
Combine sugar, syrup and butter. Boil for 1½ minutes. Remove from heat, stir in soda (a big WHOOSH is normal!) and pour over popcorn. You can add nuts to the mix as well, though we don't due to allergy issues. Let it cool a bit before you separate the corn, unless you enjoy burning your fingers. Or you can roll it into popcorn balls.
Put the completely cooled corn in an inexpensive tin and, voila!
If you want a little variety in the gift, chocolate-covered pretzels also are easy to make. They're not quick - in fact, this project gets a little tedious after a while. But they do have a certain coolness factor, because manufactured ones are expensive, compared to the cost of the ingredients.
You can use chocolate "bark" readily available at grocery store, chocolate (or vanilla or peanut butter …) chips or chocolate disks.
Though the packages for all will have microwave melting instructions, I've never had much success with this method. I either burn the chocolate - yes, it's possible - or work too slowly and have to stop and remelt. I recommend using either a double boiler or a glass jar sitting in a pan of simmering water. If you're making a lot, try several glass jars in an electric skillet. This also lets you use several colors.
Simply dip the pretzels and let them dry on waxed paper. Fingers work fine for dipping, though if you have an old fondue fork lying around, it's the perfect tool. You can add sprinkles, jimmies or coarse sugar while the chocolate's still wet if you want a festive look.
Assuming that the chocolate you use is safe -- Wilton's Candy Melts have been nut-free in the past, but please check the label -- the pretzels and popcorn also are good gifts for people allergic to nuts, since many commercial varieties are off limits.
Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.