We had a great discussion last week on our Facebook page about healthier and non-candy treats to give away at Halloween. I’ve found that there are enough opportunities to have treats, sweets, and candy while we’re out living life that I find myself being a bit more careful about how much of those things we bring into our home, so I really appreciated your tips.
Dye-free fruit snacks (like these or these) are our saving grace during church sometimes, and Milo will only sit for a haircut with a lollipop in tow. So to be clear: we DO eat sweets. I just try to stick to certain kinds, as I find we all do better this way. A sugar- and dye-heavy day for Sophie means a sugar crash, yes, but it can also take several days to get over as far as function and behavior go. That’s why when we went gluten and dairy free, I more or less phased out refined sugars and dyes from our diet. These days if we want a treat, I make it with honey, or pure maple syrup, or coconut sugar. Sugar is sugar, but I find we eat fewer sweets and need less sweetener in our lives when we stick to these kinds of sweeteners over the white and factory-made kinds.
So, since we’re not buying bags of candy to give out this year, and are only going to a trunk-or-treat (and will remove all non-safe candy from the kids’ buckets), I wanted to make something sweet for us to enjoy, and caramel corn sounded just right.
This maple caramel corn gives you all the nostalgia of your favorite oozy-gooey treat without using corn syrup or white sugar. It tastes rich and deep and heavenly. It’s not too maple-y (you certainly won’t feel like you’re eating syrup), but hits all the right notes. Honestly, I doubt you could tell the difference between this and the other stuff. My favorite way to make this is with maple sugar, which is made from hardened and crushed pure maple syrup. It can be pricey, so another option is to go with coconut sugar, which is not quite as sweet. If you’d rather not use either, brown sugar will work just fine.
A few tips on the recipe:
It’s very important to watch the caramel sauce. You want to start the heat medium-low so that the sugar crystals have enough time to dissolve fully before reaching the boiling point. Once the sauce is at a boil, you really don’t want to let it go past 3 minutes, or it’ll start to re-crystalize and will become more of a sandy candy coating. Stir in the vanilla and baking soda for softness and you’ve got something really rich and special. I love it with the pecans here, but you could certainly swap in a different nut or leave them out all together if you like.
Pop your popcorn the easy way. Rather than using an air-popper or hovering over a pot on the stove, I like to make plain microwave popcorn. Here’s how: Place 1/4 cup popcorn kernels in a brown lunch sack, fold the top over twice, then microwave for 2 minutes. Repeat with the other 1/4 cup (feel free to re-use the bag), and you’re in business.
- ½ cup popcorn kernels
- 1 cup maple sugar (or coconut sugar or brown sugar)
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- ⅓ cup coconut oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla
- additional salt
- ½ cup pecans
- Pop the popcorn kernels in an air popper or in the microwave using the method above. Sort through popcorn to remove any un-popped kernels and transfer to a large bowl.
- Meanwhile, make the caramel sauce. Over medium-low heat, melt maple sugar, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Stir until all sugar is dissolved, then increase heat to medium. Watching carefully, bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Let boil, stirring regularly, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt, baking soda, and vanilla. Mixture will foam up a bit.
- Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and stir to coat. Spread out onto a silicone mat, or a bit of parchment or waxed paper. Sprinkle with additional salt.