I love going the creative route for Christmas gifts. The tradition began as a child when my mom gave all my teachers a holiday tin full of treats like Swedish snowballs and mini cheesecakes. Homemade gifts showcase the effort put into the process, and I love the response they get. Past homemade gifts I've given have included peppermint patties to a chocolate lover, limoncello for a touch of Italy, my own blend of loose tea leaves for the tea-obsessed, and liqueur-soaked maraschino cherries. And, yesterday, a repeat of The Martha Stewart Show (I missed it the first time around) highlighted other make-it-yourself gifts like raspberry jam and maple-glazed nuts.
But this year, I was already set. My gift is cellophane-wrapped packets of Chipotle Caramel Popcorn Crunch. The clusters of popcorn drizzled with smoky, chipotle-flavored caramel contrast with the saltiness of the roasted peanuts. They are utterly addictive, and I have trouble not devouring it all myself. Try it out, either for yourself or as a homemade gift.
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2/3 cup popcorn kernels
- 1 cup peanuts (or cashews, pecans, etc.)
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
- Freshly ground pepper
In a large pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add one kernel of corn; once it has popped, add the rest of the kernels, cover the pan and shake it occasionally until popping has subsided. Pour popped corn into a large bowl, and remove the pot from heat to cool.
In a 350°F oven, toast peanuts on a baking sheet until golden and fragrant, and add the nuts to the popped corn.
Wash the cooled pot, and return it to the stove, add sugar and enough water—approximately 1/4 cup—to achieve the consistency of wet sand. Heat over high heat until a candy thermometer reads 320°F, swirling pot once caramelizing begins to ensure color is evenly distributed. Add salt, chipotle powder and black pepper, then add butter—caramel will now bubble up slightly. Add popcorn and peanuts, and stir quickly until all are evenly coated.
Pour mixture onto foil wrapped or parchment-lined sheet tray, and cool slightly. Using a spoon, break into smaller clusters, and allow to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container. Popcorn can be made up to 1 week ahead.