Graham Cracker Pralines

graham-cracker-pralinesIf you’re lucky, you have an aunt like my Aunt Liz. She’s among the kindest, most generous women around, always willing to help not just her family and friends, but also total strangers. Aunt Liz gives great advice and has a wonderful sense of humor. Her home is a refuge surrounded by trees, forever smelling of the wood stove, filled with family photos and memories and comfort.

Aunt Liz is also a legendary cook and baker, whipping up delicious meals and treats. These graham cracker pralines are among my favorite of her offerings, a recipe as simple as it is delicious. They’re the type of treat you’d find in a church cookbook, basic but rich in flavor and texture, sure to please any crowd. This Christmas, I finally asked for the recipe, and was delighted that mine turned out just as delicious as hers always do. Thanks, Aunt Liz, for this recipe and for being the best aunt ever.

Ingredients

  • 15 whole plus one-half graham crackers
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed 11 x 17 baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease your baking sheet.

Place graham crackers in a single layer on the baking sheet. You’ll need to break some of the whole crackers into individual rectangles in order for them all to fit.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in brown sugar and pecans, then bring to a gentle boil and cook for 4 minutes, stirring well.

Pour mixture over graham crackers, spreading gently so you don’t dislodge the crackers, but you still cover them as much as you can. The mixture will spread out as it bakes, so don’t worry if your crackers aren’t completely covered.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 20 minutes in the pan. Break crackers apart; store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

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Peanut Butter Popcorn

pb popcornSometimes you encounter a treat that you spend your whole life wanting to recreate. As a kid, I had a friend whose mom made excellent peanut butter popcorn, and I’ve always wanted to try to make it on my own.

Since moving back to Pittsburgh, my attempts to make successful caramel popcorn have failed, so I was a bit nervous about trying this recipe. The air seemed dry enough today (humidity is the enemy of candy-making), and armed with positive thoughts, I set my sugar and corn syrup to boil on the stove. After the requisite minute, I pulled them from the heat, stirred in my peanut butter and vanilla, and….magic. That heavenly, almost marshmallowy, peanut buttery smell that I remembered from childhood filled my kitchen. The consistency looked right, smooth and not unlike caramel. Into the oven it went, and 10 minutes later it came out a resounding success.

I used a disposable pan for this experiment just in case, but I’ll likely use a glass dish next time and/or spread the finished popcorn on a sheet of buttered foil to cool. As much as you’ll want to dive in right away, sugar gets dangerously hot when it cooks, so make sure the popcorn is completely cool before you serve it.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups air-popped popcorn (2 tablespoons unpopped)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place popcorn in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and corn syrup; bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla.

Pour over popcorn, stirring to coat.

Bake for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to continue coating the kernels evenly.

Remove from oven and cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container.

Caramel Popcorn

caramel corn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caramel is tricky. Chemically speaking, caramelization is the removal of water from sugar, a breakdown of molecules and re-formation of compounds that yield a distinct flavor. Making caramel can be a complicated business, because it’s a sensitive substance. Rainy days aren’t good for candy making in general, and you’ve got to be careful about stirring or not stirring according to a recipe’s specifications.

When Mike and I lived in Maryland and DC, my caramel popcorn turned out very differently, with a smooth caramel coating that I am yet to achieve in Pittsburgh. In LaPlata, Mike’s coworkers took up collections, giving me the proceeds to buy ingredients and keep them in caramel popcorn on a weekly basis. But here in my sunny Pittsburgh kitchen, the atmosphere, or moisture in the air, or humidity yields a crystalline caramel akin to rock candy, rather than a smooth caramel like it should. I’ve amend my recipe below to feature an additional half-teaspoon of vanilla from what I used today.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Using an air popper, pop the popcorn and place it in a large roasting pan; remove any unpopped kernels.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then continue boiling, without stirring, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add baking soda and vanilla, then stir vigorously to combine; the mixture will puff up a bit and it is very important to do this off of the heat.

Pour immediately over the popcorn and bake for 15 minutes; stir, then bake 5 minutes more.

While the popcorn is baking, spread two large pieces of aluminum foil on a table; tape down at the edges and butter well.

When popcorn is finished baking, spread immediately on the buttered foil to cool.