One day last year, I drove over to Allred Orchards in Provo to pick up a gallon (or three) of their famous fresh apple cider. It hit me that what I needed to do was figure out how to capture the deliciousness of their cider into caramel. I made ice cream and sauces. And then one day this summer as I was dreaming about that cider (knowing it was only weeks away from being available), I came up with the idea of making caramel apple popcorn.
I reduced a quart of apple cider down to a syrup and adapted my regular caramel popcorn recipe. I could barely contain my excitement. It turned out exactly as I’d hoped and I couldn’t help myself from updating my Facebook status to reflect my joy: I am a genius.
The flavor is incredible. Sweet, chewy caramel corn with a zap of fresh, tart apple flavor at the end–completely delicious and completely addictive. I’m not talking apple flavor like Jolly Ranchers here either. It’s like you’ve bitten into a freshly picked apple that just happens to also taste like buttery, caramely popcorn. (If that makes sense.
And I had to make some with white chocolate drizzled over the tops. I just had to. The tangy apple with the buttery caramel was fine, but a little sweet, creamy white chocolate kicked it up another notch.
Run out and make this as soon as possible and then tell all of your friends. You can thank me later.
(p.s. You’re welcome.)
Chewy Caramel Apple Popcorn Balls
original recipe by Lindsey Johnson
2/3 cup popcorn kernels (or 3-4 bags microwave popcorn)
2-4 Tbsp. canola oil (leave out if using an air popper)
4 cups fresh apple cider
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
3/4 tsp. salt (leave out if using microwave popcorn)
melted white chocolate, for drizzling (optional)
Pop the popcorn by heating the oil in the bottom of a large, stockpot (6 quart works great.) Turn the heat to high and add the popcorn kernels and stir with a wooden spoon until they start to sizzle. Put the lid on and frequently pick up the pan (with hot pads) and shake as the kernels pop. When the popping slows, remove from heat and immediately pour into a very big bowl. Set aside while you prepare the caramel.
In a small saucepan, bring the apple cider to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until the cider is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes. Pour into a glass measuring cup to see if it’s reduced enough. When it’s completely reduced to 1/2 cup, it will be a bit syrupy. Pour it into a larger, 3-4 quart pan with a tight-fitting lid, and add the brown sugar, cream, butter, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cover tightly with a lid. Cook for 3 minutes without removing the lid. Remove the lid, being careful not to drop any water back into the pot. Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan and cook until soft ball stage (236 degrees F to 238 degrees F.) Add the vanilla after the caramel comes to the correct temperature. It will bubble up and splatter, so be careful! Stir and pour over the popcorn, stirring with a large wooden spoon.
Eat out of the bowl, or using buttered hands, form into balls and add a stick for easier eating.
Also, you can drizzle with white chocolate for a special treat.