|Balsamic Caramel Popcorn
1 bag readily-popped pop corn (about 5 cups), microwaved, still in the paper bag
4 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-¼ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup toffee peanuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Brush a baking pan previously lined with parchment paper with a little olive oil.
Pour the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and let simmer until it reduces by half. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
In a non-stick sauce pan, melt the sugar without any water over high heat. It's important to carefully watch the sugar; as soon as the edges of the pan start caramelizing, immediately lower the heat to medium-low.
Gently jiggle the saucepan in circles. Do not use a spoon! Lower the heat to the lowest setting when there are only a few remaining non-caramelized pieces. Don't let the sugar get dark brown or you'll get a burnt taste, which would be unpleasant.
When all the sugar is an amber color, remove from the heat, pause for about a minute (be careful of splattering when the oil is added), then slowly add the olive oil and salt. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon. Bring back to the stove using the lowest setting and add the corn syrup and the balsamic reduction. Turn off the heat, then add the baking soda (it will become foamy) and vanilla extract. Stir well.
Immediately pour the caramel while it's still hot into the pop corn bag. Sprinkle the toffee peanuts (if used) and mix the ingredients until the caramel sauce is spread uniformly (I used long chopsticks).
Spread the pop corn onto the baking pan. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt (if you like) so it enhances the taste of the popcorn.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Check the pop corn frequently, stirring it using long chopsticks.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before serving. Yields: 6 servings