What Are Cracker Jacks?
Most of you likely already know the answer to this question. Cracker Jacks are a classic American snack that consist of crunchy molasses caramel popcorn and peanuts. Cracker Jacks are packaged in a bold red, white, and blue box and their most memorable feature is the inclusion of a small prize in every box.
What makes this recipe a close copycat of Cracker Jacks instead of just run-of-the-mill caramel popcorn is the use of brown sugar and addition of molasses to the caramel. These two ingredients provide that special dark caramel flavor with the extra bite that is characteristic of the commercial version of this snack.
In addition to the caramel, redskin Spanish peanuts are a must. If you are familiar with eating Cracker Jacks, you'll be familiar with the peanuts slipping out of their caramel-coated skins when biting into a cluster of sweet goodness. It's subtle and unique.
What Kind of Popcorn Should I Use?
You can use any kind of plain popped popcorn that you want. Yes, even microwave popcorn will work! If you use microwave popcorn, go for plain or lightly salted instead of varieties that are heavily buttered or flavored, as that will alter the accuracy of the flavor of your Cracker Jacks.
How To Make Popcorn On The Stove
Use a heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium heat. Add 2 TBS of oil (Extra-virgin olive oil or canola work best) and 2 popcorn kernels. Cover tightly with lid. Listen carefully for the two kernels to pop. Once they've popped, lift the lid and pour in ½ cup of kernels. Immediately replace the lid and shake the pan back and forth to distribute the oil. Lower the heat to low and continue shaking the pan frequently. You'll hear the kernels start to pop rapidly. Remove pan from heat as soon as the popping slows to 2 seconds per pop. Leave the lid on until all of the popping has stopped.
Making caramel corn is addictive and dangerous. After you make it the first time and discover how easy it really is, it's all to simply to whip up a batch anytime, anywhere, and for any reason. But that's okay if you do that, because this is a judgement free zone.
What If I Like *A LOT* Of Caramel?
Have no fear, m'dear! The way this recipe is written, it's a fairly light coating of the molasses caramel. If you want a more generous coating, simply reduce the amount of popcorn to 10 cups (or even 8 cups) and keep everything else in the recipe the same. Voila! Ultra caramel-y popcorn!
How Should I Store Caramel Popcorn?
Keeping the popcorn away from air and humidity is the key to helping it stay crisp for longer. Store in a high-quality air tight container (like these) or in a Ziploc bag with the zipper seal. If using a bag, make sure to squeeeeeze out all of the air each time you open it up. It should stay fresh at room temperature for up to 2 weeks if stored properly.
Can I Freeze The Popcorn?
Yes, you can! You would think that it'd get all soggy in the freezer, but if you package it properly (again... keep the air away from it) it will stay crisp and crunchy. I recommend using freezer-safe bags (not just regular Ziplocs) in particular and squeeze all that air out before freezing. It will stay fresh for up to a year when kept consistently frozen. Using this method is convenient if you want to make a lot of Cracker Jacks ahead of time for use as gifts in the future, or when you have unexpected company and need some quick snacks. The popcorn thaws super fast on the counter, no worries.Print
Cracker Jacks Copycat Recipe
- Total Time: 45 mins
- Yield: 16 cups popcorn 1x
Homemade Cracker Jacks are a close copycat of the nostalgic treat in the red and white box. Coated in molasses caramel with redskin Spanish peanuts, you won't know the difference between this recipe and the real thing!
- 16 cups popped popcorn
- 1 cup redskin Spanish peanuts
- 4 TBS butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 2 TBS molasses
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- Pre-heat oven to 250F
- Arrange popcorn and peanuts onto two large baking sheets and place them into the pre-heated oven while you prepare the caramel.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine all remaining ingredients except for the baking soda and bring to a low boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Insert a candy thermometer and continue to boil while stirring until the mixture reaches 270-285F. Once this stage has been reached, remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the baking soda until well-combined.
- Working quickly, pour the caramel over the popcorn and peanut mixture and return to the oven for 25 minutes, stirring with a large spatula every 5 minutes until well-coated. Remove from oven and allow to cool, and then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
If you want a heavier coating of caramel, reduce the popcorn to 10 cups and leave everything else the same.
To ensure the caramel gets hot enough for a nice crunchy popcorn, you'll need a candy thermometer. I recommend this one with a pot clip - super easy.
Freezer instructions: After the popcorn has cooled, store in freezer-safe Ziploc bags, being sure to squeeze out all of the air before sealing. Store in the freezer for up to one year.
- Prep Time: 5 mins
- Cook Time: 40 mins
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Want More Caramel Popcorn Recipes?
Dark Chocolate Caramel Popcorn (Moose Munch Copycat)
Can I make this on a rainy or high humidity day? Really want to try this but old folks say must be clear dry day. Please answer soon. Thank you
You should be fine - just store it in an airtight container as soon as it's finished so the humidity doesn't have time to get to it.