This recipe, taken from the blog of Cathy Barrow, friend of Edible Pioneer Valley (cathybarrow.com), makes the perfect bar snack. Adjust the ingredients to suit your taste: Leave out the nuts, amp up the pepper, swap the bourbon for rum, and so it goes … Cracker Jill lasts about two to three days in a tightly covered container.
Makes about 12 cups
6 ounces bacon, cooked and crumbled, 1 tablespoon bacon fat reserved
1 cup popcorn kernels
⅓ cup grapeseed oil
2 cups salted peanuts, or slivered almonds (if you have run out of peanuts)
6 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon gochucaru chili powder (or pimente d’Espelette, or Aleppo pepper, or cayenne), depending on your pantry and your preference
Heat oven to 250° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
In a 5-quart heavy pot, heat the grapeseed oil and 3 popcorn kernels. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn, remove the pot from the heat, cover and wait exactly 30 seconds. Place the pot back on the heat, shaking often until the corn stops popping. Dump into a very large bowl immediately. Add bacon, bacon fat, and peanuts. Set aside.
Make the caramel: In a 3-quart saucepan, cook the butter, sugar, and salt until dark amber and a candy thermometer reads 265° to 270°. Add the baking soda and stir well, then add the bourbon and chili powder and stir very thoroughly and carefully, as the bourbon may sputter. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir gently and thoroughly to coat with caramel.
Spread the popcorn out on the baking sheets lined with parchment. Slide in the oven and bake for 1 hour. Cool completely. Break up especially large chunks.