Baseball and Cracker Jack go together, in real life as well as in our minds (unlike baseball and apple pie — seriously, when did you ever see anyone eating pie at a baseball game? Anyway, you can’t make apple pie with just four ingredients). Thanks to the song, so do peanuts and Cracker Jack — though I’ve always wondered why, since there are already peanuts in the Cracker Jack. Maybe someone felt there weren’t enough. Okay, I can understand that, so this recipe is a little more peanutty than the traditional commercial mix.
Speaking of the Cracker Jack recipe — which has been around since the century before last — Wikipedia says people used to wonder what secret ingredient kept the pieces from sticking together. Turns out it was simply a splash of oil added after the sweet coating was put on. After reading that, and not having room in my ingredient limit for oil, I was ready to see my homemade version stick together. So I did the baking in muffin tins, figuring that at least I’d end up with a couple dozen small pieces instead of one huge one that might have to be hammered apart. But the baking just brought the coating to a slightly crisp stage and didn’t stick anything together. You could even skip the baking and just serve this after the coating’s cooled down — the taste is just as good.
A little more about taste — salted peanuts are probably best in this. If you use salted butter you don’t even have to sprinkle any salt on the finished dish. Unsalted peanuts would probably be too bland, honey roasted would be too sweet, barbecue would just be weird (or would they?).
For something closer to the original, see Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Recipes — though, hm, he doesn’t use oil either.
- 8 cups popped popcorn (start with ½ cup unpopped)
- 2 cups roasted salted peanuts
- ½ cup butter
- ⅔ cup brown sugar
- Mix the popcorn and peanuts gently in a large, buttered oven proof pan. Try not to let the peanuts fall to the bottom.
- Melt the butter over low heat.
- Carefully add the sugar to the melted butter.
- Stir constantly as the sugar melts into the butter, the mixture begins to bubble, and for a couple of minutes after that. The mixture should be smooth and caramel colored.
- Remove from heat, and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Pour the mixture over the popcorn and peanuts, and toss gently to coat (though it will stick to the popcorn much better).
- Bake at 200℉ for 10 minutes to crisp the coating.
- Cool and serve.