A few notes to help you along:
– The original version of this recipe calls for microwave popcorn. I used Newman’s Own brand microwave popcorn in the “natural” flavor. However, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use stovetop or air-popped popcorn, if you’d like. You’ll need 10 cups of it, and you’ll probably want to salt it lightly, since almost all microwave popcorns have at least a little bit of added salt.
– Be sure to have a whisk and a rubber spatula close at hand. You’ll need them both on short notice.
– Before you begin cooking the caramel, measure out the baking soda and the vanilla, and chop the peanuts. You won’t have time to do it later.
– Do not try to make this recipe without a candy thermometer.
– If you plan to give this popcorn as a gift, know that it looks very handsome, and keeps nicely, in a Mason jar.
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
If using microwave popcorn, pop the popcorn according to the package instructions. Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and dump the popcorn into the bowl, taking care to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer, whisking often, until the mixture reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can. Stir in the peanuts, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn, and serve.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (or thereabouts).
Yield: 10 cups