Making homemade cracker jacks is super easy and ever since my Nana introduced me to this recipe, I’ve been in love. Controlling the peanut to popcorn ratio is also a huge bonus but the best one is that you don’t get stale pieces like you do in the box. Fresh is best and this popcorn is undoubtedly better than the store bought variety.
What are cracker jacks?
Cracker Jacks are a famous and old fashioned boxed caramel popcorn with red skinned peanuts that you can buy in America. They’ve been around for decades and some of the biggest reasons for their popularity is that there is a small toy or prize inside. That said, making your own at home has its benefits too even if there isn’t a toy involved.
-Popcorn: You’re going to need about 16 cups worth of popped popcorn which means 3 bags worth or 1 ½ cups of kernels.
-Peanuts: Lightly salted peanuts work best because they aren’t too salty and can add that sweet/salty ratio we like (and want!)
-Brown Sugar: Lightly pack your measuring cup with brown sugar. This will give us not only a bit of caramelization and sweetness but depth of flavor from the molasses in the sugar.
-Corn Syrup: A little corn syrup will help to make the sugar mix thick, sweet, and sticky so it adheres to the popcorn.
-Salt: A little salt will help to add the depth to the flavors and make them POP.
-Baking Soda: Baking soda may sound weird here but try me, it keeps the caramel from getting too thick and makes it perfect.
-Vanilla: A little vanilla doesn’t hurt and in fact helps the flavors have a starting point to branch off of. It works great, so make sure you add it!
Preheat your oven to 250F degrees.
Line a jelly-roll sheet with parchment paper.
Pop your popcorn and lay it on the sheet spreading it and the nuts around evenly.
Place the sheet in the oven while it’s preheating and just leave it in there while you prepare the caramel. This should take about 7-8 minutes.
In a heavy 2qt saucepan on medium heat, mix your brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt.
Let it boil for 5 minutes without stirring.
When your timer only has a minute left remove the tray of popcorn and nuts from the oven and set it aside.
Remove the pan from the heat and add in the baking soda and vanilla. Mix together well.
Quickly pour the caramel syrup over the top of the popcorn, stirring evenly to coat.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes stirring the popcorn every 10-15 minutes or at least twice during the timeframe.
Remove the tray from the oven and let the popcorn cool completely.
Break it apart & enjoy!
Copycat Cracker Jacks
- 16 cups Popped Popcorn (1½ cups kernels)
- 1 ½ cups lightly salted Peanuts
- 1 cup brown sugar (packed down lightly)
- ½ cup corn syrup
- ½ cup butter
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
- Line a jelly-roll sheet with parchment paper. Add popcorn and nuts, spreading evenly around the pan.
- Place in the oven while it's preheating and just leave it in there while you prepare the caramel. (It should only take about 7-8 minutes.)
- Mix brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt in heavy 2 qt. saucepan on medium heat.
- Bring to boil over while stirring constantly.
- Boil 5 min. without stirring. When your timer has about 1 minute left, remove the popcorn/peanut mixture from the over and set close by.
- Remove caramel from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Mix well.
- Spray a rubber scraper with nonstick cooking spray and quickly pour syrup over warm popcorn, stir to coat evenly.
- Bake for 45 min. stirring every 10-15 minutes, at least twice during the 45 minute period.
- Remove from oven, let cool and break apart. ENJOY!
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How long does homemade caramel popcorn last?
If stored properly, you can expect your popcorn to last up to 2 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.
What if I don’t have brown sugar?
You can use 1:1 ratio of white sugar and add in 2 teaspoons of molasses if you don’t have any brown sugar on hand this will make dark brown sugar and can be used exactly like normal without any additional steps or measurements needed.
Can I freeze caramel popcorn?
Yes you can. You can freeze leftover caramel popcorn in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a year. Crazy right? Just note that as it thaws you may experience the caramel weeping and creating a stale popcorn depending on how well it was kept and how you choose to thaw it.
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Copycat Cracker Jacks Popcorn are better than the real thing and with this simple recipe you’ll never need to buy store bought again. Try it soon and see how incredible it is for yourself!